Naw Ohn Hla, a land right and political activist together with four colleagues were arrested in Myawaddy after a protest over a controversial housing project on April 22, 2019.
Naw Ohn Hla was arrested while traveling to Yangon on the night of April 22 after she joined with residents of the Shwe Mya Sandi Housing Project to protest the lost of their land and temporary houses. Local authorities had declared the housing project as not official.
The housing project land is partially owned by residents of Mae Ka Nae village and forest land that was confiscated by a former commander of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) who later resold it to the protesting villagers.
According to police records, Naw Ohn Hla was arrested under the Peaceful Assembly Act 19/20 for not including her name in the protest request letter and for later leading and protesting.
Ma Zarchi Linn, a member of Women for Democracy and Peace, the women’s group that Naw Ohn Hla is also a member, told Karen News that Naw Ohn Hla was only there to morally support the protesters.
Speaking to Karen News, Ma Zarchi Linn said.
“Local residents told her that they were going to protest. They asked her to assist them so she went there to support them. All other organization was handled by local residents. No police force came to negotiate with them during the day (of protest). When she left Myawaddy in the evening, around 20 police came and took her saying they need to question her over the Peaceful Assembly charge.”
Officials said that Kyaw Thu Yi, chief of police in Myawaddy Township Police Station acted as prosecutor arresting a total of five people, including Naw Ohn Hla, U Maung Oo, U Nge (aka) U San Hlaing, Daw Sandar Myint and Daw Nan Khin Thein under the Peaceful Assembly Act (19/20).
Naing Win, Deputy Chief of Police at Myawaddy Township Police Station spoke to Karen News about the case.
“The case was filed under the Peaceful Assembly Act. Naw Ohn Hla didn’t have the permission letter. We will question her case. Then we will send it to court. The Township Police Chief Officer will act as prosecutor.”
Ma Zarchi Linn said that they will see if Naw Ohn Hla can be bailed. If not, they will continue the process as she only took part in the protest to give support as a citizen and did not incite the protest.
After the State government declared that the Shwe Mya Sandi Housing Project is not official, the vacant land plots and temporary huts near inner Mae Ka Nae village in Myawaddy Township, Karen State were being demolished on February 22, 2019 with joint agreement between the State Government and ethnic armed organizations.
As the project is not under rule of law, respective officers and township administrator in Myawaddy were instructed to take action. The people who bought the land in the project area along with thousands of people protested in Myawaddy over a decision by the Forest Department ordering people who are living in the housing project to move out on April 4th 2019.