Saw Tha Boe, a Karen environmental activist who was sued and charged with defamation against the State by Hpa-An Township court says he will fight the case to prove he did not break the law.
On March 6, local police went to arrest Saw Tha Boe, who works for Karen River Watch, by going to his house, but he was not at home. Police searched his house and questioned members of his family.
Police Captain Myo Aung, the acting police chief of Hpa-An Township reported on Myanmar Time’s online website, “We went to his house to arrest him on Friday, but he was not there and we don’t know where he is. He must give himself up, as the court has summoned him.”
In an interview with Karen News on March 7, Saw Tha Boe said he knew nothing about the court orders. He said he was only made aware of the case against him when a colleague told him police had searched his house in an attempt to arrest him.
Speaking to Karen News, Saw Tha Boe said.
“I haven’t seen any notice letter from the court and I was told that the court hearing is scheduled for March 10. I am still on my trip that will take two weeks. I won’t be back on time for the court hearing.”
On March 9, the Save the Salween Network and Burma River Network put out a statement condemning the Police Force’s attempted arrest of Saw Tha Boe.
The joint statement pointed out police from Myaingkalay and Hpa-an police stations attempted an arrest in connection to the January 17, 2020 traditional prayer ceremony in Nat Kone Village, Bakat Village Tract where religious leaders and local resident prayed to avoid health hazards and dangers associated with pollution and discolouring of local water sources in 30 villages near a coal-powered cement factory.
Acting as the plaintiff, is the deputy chief of Hpa-an town General Administration Department, who filed a complaint in the Hpa-an Township Court under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code. The Section 505(b) of the Penal Code read: ‘Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report, with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquillity’. The charges provides for up to two years in prison.
The KRN and SSN’s joint statement called for the government to immediately drop all charges against Saw Tha Boe, recognise and value human rights, citizenship rights, indigenous rights and basic standards of democracy and to avoid ethnic conflict and human rights violations in order to ensure the smooth running of the 2020 elections.
Meanwhile, the Karen Human Rights Group issued a statement condemning the legal case against Saw Tha Boe and highlighted that the lawsuit blocks his environmental activism.
The KHRG statement pointed out that instead of using laws against activists trying to solve problems and struggling for justice, the Government should take responsibility for the negative impacts of business developments they gave permission that have caused community issues.
Saw Tha Boe says he is innocent.
“I have done nothing wrong. In democracy, the government should allow freedom of expression and to exercise our citizen rights. This is a way of putting pressure on activists and is totally against democratic principles.”