Two Hpa-an based land right activists have been jailed for two years in jail, under Article 17/1 for association with an illegal organization. The two men, Saw Maung Maung Gyi and Saw Eh Say were sentenced on November 25, at Hpa-an Township’s Court.
Saw Maung Maung Gyi, an 88 Generation Karen Student Group’s chairperson who had been helping local villagers to petition to have their confiscated land returned and Saw Eh Say, a local villager who is among those who lost land were arrested in August this year.
U Win Naing, the police chief at Myaing Kalay, brought the charge against Saw Maung Maung Gyi and Saw Eh Say under Article 17/1. The police accused Saw Eh Say of being a soldier from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) an illegal organization.
U Nyi Pu, a 88 Generation Karen Student Group, said that the charge brought against the two is just an instrument used by the police to lock up the activists and is a warning to others land right advocates.
Speaking to Karen News, U Nyi Pu said.
“Our group is helping as mediators between villagers who lost land and the government agencies. We are trying to discuss the problems in order to find the best solution. The charge brought by the police is not related to the case and there were no witnesses. They [authorities] use this [law] just to oppress civilians. I doubt [sincerity] of the peace process the government is implementing now.”
Activists explained to Karen News that when the nationwide ceasefire was signed between the ethnic armed groups and the government, article 7, chapter 6 in the agreement states that ethnic armed groups will be delisted from being classified as illegal organizations and that the DKBA had been delisted.
Saw Maung Maung Gyi’s wife said that her husband’s jailing should be a warning for the ethnic armed group leaders, that despite the armed groups being delisted, Article 17/1, was still being used to jail people.
“After I have heard the sentence, I thought would our Karen leaders let this happen? Will they just ignore us? Should we accept this injustice? I want to ask our Karen leaders. Will they support us?”
On October 15, eight ethnic armed groups signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the government and just before the signing ethnic armed groups that were listed as illegal organization were delisted.
Despite, all ethnic armed groups being delisted as illegal organizations, the government’s law enforcement agencies are still using the Act to charge their opponents. Hpa-an residents claim the abuse of the law has eroded any trust in local government authorities.