By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Ko Khaing Myo Htun has been remanded in Sittwe Prison on incitement charges for his alleged role in documenting military human rights abuses, according to a Friday statement by EarthRights International.
The ethnic Rakhine activist, 34, a deputy information officer for the Arakan Liberation Party, was arrested on July 25 and will next appear before Sittwe Township Court on September 2. He faces a maximum four-year prison sentence if convicted.
Denying a bail application on Friday, the presiding judge referred to the sensitivity of the case against Khaing Myo Htun and noted the defendant had failed to respond to two earlier court summons.
EarthRights said Khaing Myo Htun, a former student of the advocacy group’s human rights and environmental activism school, had been travelling in the weeks before his arrest and had not been informed of the requests to present himself to the court.
“The investigation that needs to happen is the one that looks into the allegations that the army has committed abuses against civilians in Rakhine State,” said Ka Hsaw Wa, executive director of EarthRights. “We hope that the court will see that, dismiss the charges against Khaing Myo Htun, and investigate the abuses highlighted in the statement.”
Charges against Khaing Myo Htun were filed after the ALP issued a statement claiming the Myanmar military had used torture and forced portering against civilians in Rakhine State.
The ALP, which signed a bilateral ceasefire with the government in 2012 and participated in last year’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, warned in the statement that the allegations could put future peace negotiations at risk.
Khaing Myo Htun’s name was not on the statement, leading EarthRights to allege that his prosecution was motivated by “his work in human rights and environmental activism”.
Fighting broke out in Kyauktaw Township between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group excluded from participating in the NCA, in the closing days of last year. Hundreds of civilians were forced to flee their homes over the following weeks.
An independent report into the conflict by Fortify Rights, published in March, documented several cases of forced labour by the Myanmar Army soon after hostilities broke out.
The report alleged that Tatmadaw soldiers had forced civilians in Kyauktaw to carry supplies and dig graves under the threat of death.