By YE MON | FRONTIER
YANGON — A court in Sittwe on Tuesday sentenced prominent lawmaker Dr Aye Maung and author Wai Hin Aung to 20 years’ imprisonment for speeches given at a public event in Rakhine State early last year.
Sittwe District Court sentenced the two ethnic Rakhine men to 20 years for high treason under section 122 of the Penal Code and two years for incitement under section 505(b) of the Penal Code. The sentences will be served concurrently. They were transferred to Sittwe Prison following the decision.
The sentences are likely to further inflame tensions in the conflict-hit state, where the Arakan Army and state forces have clashed repeatedly since a January 4 attack that left 13 police officers dead.
“Rakhine people are angry about the case,” said Wai Hin Aung’s lawyer, Daw Aye Nu Sein.
She told Frontier that the verdict was unfair and the severity of the sentences were out of proportion to the alleged offences. However, she was unsure whether her client would appeal.
U Tun Aung Kyaw, general secretary of the Arakan National Party, said the party would hold a central executive committee to discuss the case. He said he expected the ANP would provide support to Aye Maung and Wai Hin Aung.
“They were just talking about current affairs in line with freedom of expression. It [the verdict and sentence] doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Aye Maung and Wai Hin Aung were both arrested in January 2018 and formally charged in September. Separate charges under section 17(1) and 17(2) of the Unlawful Associations Act were withdrawn by the plaintiff due to a lack of evidence.
They were arrested after giving speeches at a public event in Rathedaung Township at which Aye Maung reportedly accused the Bamar-dominated National League for Democracy government of treating the Rakhine people like “slaves”.
The speech came shortly before nine people were killed in violent clashes between police and Rakhine protesters in Mrauk U, the former capital of the Rakhine kingdom, on January 16 last year. The violence erupted after the authorities banned a gathering to mark the fall of the Rakhine kingdom to the Konbaung dynasty in 1784.
Aye Maung was elected to the Amyotha Hluttaw in 2010 but was defeated in a bid to move to the Rakhine State Hluttaw in 2015. He returned to the national legislature in 2017 after winning a by-election for the Pyithu Hluttaw seat of Ann, which he holds as an independent after resigning from the ANP in late 2017.
Since his arrest he has applied to form a new political entity, the Arakan Front Party, which received Union Election Commission approval in October. However, Tun Aung Kyaw said the ANP has not yet formally accepted Aye Maung’s resignation.
In November, Aye Maung’s son, U Tin Maung Win, won a by-election for the Rakhine State Hluttaw seat of Rathedaung-2, easily defeating the candidate from the ANP.