Rights campaigner jailed for peaceful protest

A leading women’s activist has been jailed after leading a peaceful protest against copper mine project, sparking outrage from human rights groups, including Burma Campaign UK.

Naw Ohn Hla, a former political prisoner and leading member of the Democracy and Peace Women Network, was arrested on August 13th after staging an unauthorized protest against a government backed copper mine project in Letpadaung, Burma. For her peaceful protest, Naw Ohn Hla has been sentenced to two years in prison.

Naw Ohn Hla was charged under Article 18(b) of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law and section 505(b) of the penal code for committing or inducing others to commit an offense against the State or against the ‘public tranquility’. Her trial continues for a remaining charge.

“The jailing of Naw Ohn Hla shows that the international community shouldn’t be falling for Thein Sein’s meaningless promises,” said Wai Hnin, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK.

Wai Hnin added, “Activists in Burma are still facing arrest and harassment by the military-backed government. If President Thein Sein is really genuine about reform, he should start by repealing all the repressive laws which put political prisoners in jail.”

The New York based Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher for Burma, Mr David Mathieson, points out in a paper on HRW’s website that President Thein Sein had failed to keep to a promise he made in July this year while on an official trip to the UK, “that by the end of the year there will be no “prisoners of conscience” [in Burma].

Mr Mathieson said the government has not been open about the number of people recently jailed for political activism.

“In recent weeks, arrests for political actions or protests have risen markedly and none of these new prisoners are included on the lists. Naw Ohn Hla, a former political prisoner and land rights activist was sentenced to two years on Friday for inciting unrest over a protest she led in mid-August against the controversial Letpadaung copper mine, site of numerous arrests and violent police crackdowns.”

Naw Ohn Hla is now serving her prison sentence in Monywa prison in Central Burma.

Authorities Refused Protest Permit

Naw Ohn Hla went ahead with her protest after being refused nine times by the police to issue her a protest permit.

The Letpadaung project is a business venture between China’s Wan Bao Company, the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and Burma’s government.
The Burma Campaign UK, claims the project has resulted in land confiscations, environmental degradation, and the implementation of a policy of “arresting and harassing peaceful protestors.”

Mine Backed by Force

The project has attracted growing controversy over the occasional heavy-handed use of security forces to clamp down against protestors, which includes residents of the area, with authorities accused of using phosphorous in a crackdown in November last year.

The authorities were also accused by international humanitarian groups of “violently” raiding protestors at a monastery in Zeetaw village in August.

Residents were calling for an immediate moratorium on the project and the release of those detained for protesting against it.

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