Myanmar Activist Stages Hunger Strike in Insein Prison

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by Nay Rain Kyaw

A Myanmar activist held for a week in Yangon’s Insein prison has staged a hunger strike to protest his arrest over his role in an anti-land grabbing campaign, fellow activists said Friday.

Htin Kyaw began his hunger strike four days ago after he was detained last Friday following a demonstration he staged with Yangon residents denouncing the government’s seizure of their homes located in an area that has been reallocated for a business venture, according to activists.

The former political prisoner and grassroots community protest leader has been charged with spreading statements that incite unrest and violating a controversial peaceful assembly law.

He is facing two trials and could face up to three years in prison if convicted.  

Global rights watchdog the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defender has called for the immediate release of Htin Kyaw and three residents who had also participated in the July 30 protest outside Yangon’s North Okkalapa township court.

Their arrest “seem[s] to merely aim at sanctioning [Htin Kyaw’s] peaceful human rights activities,” the group, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture, said in a statement Thursday.

The protest was peaceful and their “arbitrary detention" amounts to “judicial harassment,” it said.

Looking weak

Appearing in the Thingangkuun township court for the first day of his trial on Friday, Htin Kyaw looked weak from hunger and urged community residents not to give up their struggle against the land grab, activist Tun Tun Naing said.

“He is weak because he has been on hunger strike for four days,” Tun Tun Naing told RFA’s Myanmar Service after the court session.

“He told the local people whose homes had been taken over and who had come to watch the trial ‘Don’t bow to the authorities.’”

“He asked them, ‘Is the land owned by the military?’ and they shouted, “No,” and then he was sent back to Insein Prison,” he said. It is not clear whether the powerful military which is involved in business has a stake in the new business venture.    

A separate trial for Htin Kyaw in the North Okkalapa township court is set to begin on Aug. 13.

The activist has been charged under Article 505 (b) of Burma’s Criminal Code, which prohibits spreading statements that cause alarm or induce others to commit an offense against the state or the public, and under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which requires demonstrators to obtain permission to publicly assemble and demonstrate.

In May, Htin Kaw was held in Insein Prison for a week along with two other community activists after they refused to post bail for their arrest on defamation charges linked to an earlier protest about the land grab.

Residents of the community have said their land was illegally taken from them by the government and sold to a wealthy restauranteur.

Htin Kyaw was jailed for his activism under Myanmar’s military junta in 2007 and released in a political prisoner amnesty in January last year.

Reported by Nay Rain Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.
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