By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Burma Campaign UK on Thursday urged Lieutenant-General Ko Ko, the Minister for Home Affairs, to order the release of Ma Nilar Thein, the day after the prominent 88 Generation Peace and Open Society activist was arrested at the group’s Thingangyun headquarters.
Ma Nilar Thein, 43, was arrested under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law and brought before Mayangone township court for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, reportedly for her alleged support of a Yangon protest against the government’s National Education Law in March 2015. The charge carries a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment.
Speaking to reporters outside the court on Wednesday, Ma Nilar Thein said she had waived her right to bail because she did not want to comply with the court’s bail conditions. She added that she had been arrested as a fugitive after police went to apprehend her at a residential address on three occasions, incorrectly believing it to be her home
Ma Wai Hnin, Burma Campaign UK’s campaign officer, said that Ma Nilar Thein’s arrest nearly a year after the education law protests demonstrated the government’s continuing persecution of political activists.
“It is absurd that a prominent leader like Nilar Thein has been arrested for her political activities from last year,” she said in a Thursday press statement. “The arrest of Nilar Thein is unlawful and she should be released immediately.”
Ko Kyaw Min Yu, the husband of Ma Nilar Thein and a fellow 88 Generation activist, more widely known as Ko Jimmy, told Voice of America that it was uncertain which particular protest his wife had been charged for.
Ma Nilar Thein had participated in a demonstration against the National Education Law outside Sule Pagoda on March 5 last year, which was violently dispersed by police and a mob of plainclothes thugs hired by authorities. She was arrested and released the following morning along with several others.
The March 5 demonstration was held to urge authorities not to resort to violence against more than 100 student protesters, who had been marching from Mandalay to Yangon in opposition to the government’s controversial education reforms, and were at that time blockaded by police in the Bago Region town of Letpadan.
Five days later, the Letpadan students were violently attacked in what a subsequent joint investigation by Fortify Rights and the Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Clinic concluded was a categorical act of excessive force. A year later, 50 student demonstrators remain in nearby Thayawady Prison awaiting the conclusion of their trial, which has been subjected to numerous delays.
A solidarity protest at Yangon’s Hledan Junction, held on the same day of the Letpadan crackdown, also came to an abrupt end with attacks on students by police forces.
Ma Nilar Thein has spent more than 10 years in prison, beginning with her two-month detention in 1991 for pro-democracy activism under the previous military regime.
In a 2007 interview, she said she had been subjected to sexual abuse and harassment while imprisoned at Thayawady Prison after she was imprisoned for participating in student demonstrations in 1996, the largest public protests in Myanmar since the 1988 uprising against the Burma Socialist Programme Party.
She spent more than a year in hiding before her arrest and imprisonment for organising protests against fuel price rises in August 2007, soon after the birth of her daughter, at the beginning of a two-month long period of civil unrest and protests that came to be known internationally as the Saffron Revolution. At the time, her husband was already in prison.
Both Ma Nilar Thein and Ko Jimmy were officially pardoned and released by President U Thein Sein in January 2012, along with 27 other members of the 88 Generation group.