By HTUN KHAING | FRONTIER
YANGON – Eight demonstrators arrested at a Yangon rally in support of the victims of fighting in Kachin State, and across the country, have been released on bail and say they are collecting evidence to fight charges under the peaceful assembly law.
They participated in a peaceful demonstration in Yangon’s Tarmwe Township on May 12 to call for an end to the civil war and for the protection of civilians displaced by fighting. Police armed with riot shields and batons dispersed the rally.
The eight detained activists were taken to Bahan Township Police Station and released on bail on Sunday. Police have charged them all under section 20 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.
The organisers, who planned to march from Tarmwe to the city’s downtown area, had submitted a letter on May 9 informing authorities of their intention to hold a peaceful protest, but police denied them permission.
If convicted the activists could be sentenced to one month’s imprisonment and fined K10,000. Those charged under the law for a second time may face a harsher sentence of up to three months’ imprisonment and a K30,000 fine.
Ko Tin Htut Paing, one of those arrested, told Frontier the group was now collecting audio-visual and photographic records in preparation to fight the case. He said that as the demonstrators were arrested, they were punched by a group of people beside the police van.
“When I was arrested, I was punched by around five people in plain clothing, who were saying to me, ‘Are you one who wants peace?’” he said. “Nearly all of them were wearing white.”
Videos filmed at the rally and seen by Frontier appear to show men punching demonstrators at the Tarmwe junction, as police officers watch but do not intervene.
Police officers in a democracy should protect demonstrators and uphold freedom of speech, instead of standing by while they are punched, Tin Htut Paing said, calling the behaviour “shameful”.
Following their arrest, the demonstrators were interrogated for almost two hours. Ko Zeyar Lwin, another of those arrested, said he asked about the links between the plainclothes men and the police, but police officers refused to answer.
“When I asked a policeman who [the men] were, he replied that he had no right to answer and a Bahan Police Station officer, said that he didn’t know them,” said Tin Htut Paing.