Myanmar: Authorities must end ‘relentless persecution’ of activist

Myanmar authorities must end their relentless persecution of a prominent human rights activist who faces trial again tomorrow after having already been sentenced to almost a decade in prison for “crimes” such as holding a candlelight vigil, Amnesty International said.

On 11 September, a Yangon court is due to deliver its verdict in the case of Ko Htin Kyaw, the leader of the community-based organization Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF). The authorities allege he incited people to commit offences “against the State or against public tranquility”.

He has faced multiple trials for the same charges in several townships since his arrest in May 2014. Added together, these sentences mean he is now serving at least nine years and four months in prison.

“The relentless efforts of the Myanmar authorities to silence a critical voice must end immediately,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

“The charges Ko Htin Kyaw is facing tomorrow are farcical. He has done nothing but peacefully express his opinions – he is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally.” 

Ko Htin Kyaw was first detained on 5 May 2014 in Yangon while delivering a speech and distributing leaflets calling on the Myanmar government to resign.

Since then, he has been charged multiple times for “offences” under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code and Article 18 of Myanmar’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. The Myanmar authorities frequently use these two vaguely formulated pieces of legislation to silence dissent.

“Sadly, Ko Htin Kyaw’s case is just the tip of the iceberg – scores of peaceful activists and human rights defenders have been targeted, arrested and in many cases locked up across Myanmar in 2014. All laws used to silence critics must be repealed or amended immediately to comply with international human rights law and standards,” said Rupert Abbott.

Three fellow members of the MDCF have also been detained for criticizing the Myanmar government. Ko Tin Maung Kyi and Ko Zaw Win have both been sentenced to one and a half years in prison while Naung Naung is Ko Htin Kyaw’s co-defendant in another court case he is facing.

Ko Htin Kyaw has been a frequent target of the authorities in recent years. He was sentenced to 33 months in prison between October and November 2013, but released in a government amnesty in December 2013, only to be rearrested later the same day.