In a decision criticized by human rights groups, eight ethnic Chin activists were convicted under Burma’s controversial Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act on Wednesday 23 July.
The Chin Human Rights Ogranisation said in a statement that the activists were given the choice of going to prison or each paying a fine of 30,000 Kyat, having been convicted of contravening Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly act. All eight activists decided to pay the fine rather than being sent to prison.
The Chin activists were arrested following their involvement in peaceful protests condemning the alleged attempted rape of a 55-year-old Chin woman by a Burma Army soldier on June 10 in the town of Rezua, Chin State.
According to a statement by the Rezua Women’s Group released after the alleged rape, the woman was left seriously injured and was admitted to a hospital in Rezua. The Rezua Women’s Group said it organized the protest alongside local villagers to demand justice for the woman and asked permission from authorities on two occasions – both of which were refused – before going ahead ‘illegally’ with marches on June 23 and 24 in Rezua and Matpui townships.
One of the activists convicted and quoted in the CHRO statement said.
“The judge said we cannot avoid being charged under Article 18 and that the law has to be followed. He asked us to choose between paying the fines and going to prison. So, we chose to pay the fine.”
The 30,000 Kyat fine is the harshest financial penalty allowed under law.
Speaking to Karen News at the time of the alleged attempted rape, Rachel Fleming, advocacy director of the Chin Human Rights Organisation, said that women were at continued risk of sexual violence in Chin State and that authorities were often behind the violence.
“Sadly, this is not an isolated event,” Ms Fleming said, “CHRO has documented five different sexual violence cases since President Thein Sein’s government took power in March 2011. One rape and murder was committed by a Meitei insurgent from Manipur in Northeast India, and the rest of the cases were committed by Burma Army soldiers.”
Burma Campaign UK, a human rights advocacy group, was also critical of Burma’s lack of progress toward eliminating sexual violence.
“Rather than implementing the declaration to end sexual violence, the Burmese government has arrested women who protested against the attempted rape of an ethnic chin woman by a Burmese Army soldier”, Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK said in an official statement last month.
The Women’s League of Burma condemned the civilian administration for the conviction of activists.
“It is extremely disturbing that the backlash on these women activists has not only come from the military establishment, but also from the so-called civilian administration, from the township level right up to the Chin State parliament. “ WLB said in a statement.
A January 2014 report by the WLB documented the rape of more than 100 women and girls, including 47 gang rapes, by the Burma Army since the new government came into power in 2011 – 28 of the victims were either killed by the perpetrators or later died of their injuries.
The eight activists convicted included members of the Zotung Women’s Organisation, the Matpui Women’s Organisation and the Matpui Youth Association.