Activist jailed for farming on confiscated land and offending ‘Public Tranquility’

A Rangoon based activist was jailed by the government for his role in organizing anti-government protests with farmers, over land confiscated to make way for a copper mine.

Burma Campaign UK, a human rights advocacy group based in the United Kingdom, called on the British Government last week to pressure Burma’s government to repeal all repressive laws and release all remaining political prisoners immediately. On July 4 the group urged, Mr Hugo Swire MP, the British Foreign Office Minister with the responsibility for Burma.

Burma Campaign said in a media statement that Burma’s notorious draconian laws that resulted in as many 2,400 political prisoners being jailed were still active.

“Regardless of the changes in Burma, almost all the repressive laws that enabled the jailing of political prisoners still remain in place. The unconditional release of all political prisoners is an essential step towards genuine democracy and freedom.”

Aung Soe, an activist and member of the Rangoon Civil Assistance Network that promotes civil rights in Burma, was arrested for his part in organizing protests with local farmers to plough land that had been confiscated by the Burma government for the Letpadaung copper mine project, located in Monywa, central Burma.

The Letpadaugn copper mine project is a joint venture with China’s Wan Bao Company and the military owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. The project led to land confiscation and environmental degradation, angering locals who relied on the land for their livelihood.

Protests first began in June 2012 by a group of farmers demanding compensation for confiscated land and the suspension of work at the copper mine.

Burma Campaign UK claim Aung Soe was badly beaten when he was arrested in April 2013. Since then, he has been charged with eight different counts, including for personally committing or inducing others to commit an offense against the State or against ‘public tranquility’, under Article 144, section 505(b) of Burma’s legal code.

Aung Soe’s trial was closed to the public and he was denied a lawyer to defend him. Aung Soe was sentenced to one and a half years in prison. He is currently serving his sentence in Shwe Bo prison in central Burma, hundreds of miles away from his family in Rangoon.

Wai Hnin, campaigns officer at for the Burma Campaign UK said.

“Unless all the repressive laws are repealed, people in Burma will continue to live in fear of arrest, torture and harassment by the military-backed government.”

Wai Hnin said international governments, including Britain’s need to do more to put pressure on President Thein Sein to ensure he delivers his promised reforms and that all political prisoners in Burma are released.

“Hugo Swire and the international community should not abandon political prisoners like Aung Soe. The immediate unconditional release of all political prisoners is a very important step towards genuine democracy and national reconciliation in the country.”

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