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Protest leaders sentenced to 3 months in prison

Two prominent activists who organised a protest calling for farmers’ rights were sentenced to three months imprisonment by the western Rangoon District Court on Tuesday.

On January 18, Nay Myo Zin and Win Cho were charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for staging the demonstration without obtaining prior permission from the authorities. The protest, which occurred the day before at Maha Bandoola Park in front of Rangoon’s city hall, brought out hundreds of farmers from more than 30 townships across Burma, who called for the release of jailed activists, constitutional reform, and the establishment of a farmers’ union.

Speaking before the sentencing, Win Cho said officials were more worried about following orders from above than serving their communities.

“Officials working in government administrations on regional, district, township and ward levels, instead of serving their official mandate with respect to the law, are still prioritising following orders from superior authorities,” he said.

“I see this as the main cause of the circumstances we are witnessing now.”

Nay Myo Zin, a former army captain-turned activist who now works for the Myanmar Social Development Network, a civil society organisation, said they were denied permission because there were no farmers in downtown Rangoon.

“We did seek official permission for the protest seven days in advance but the police and authorities rejected it,” he said. “Their reason was that there was no existence of a farmer population or issues affecting farmers in Kyauktada township.”

Following the sentencing, the pair were sent to Insein Prison, where they will serve their three-month terms.

Both activists have served jail terms for political activism in the past. Last May, Nay Myo Zin earned the dubious distinction of being the first activist arrested on political grounds since Thein Sein’s reformist government assumed power in 2011. He had previously served six months of a ten-year politically motivated sentence, and was released as part of a general prisoner amnesty in January 2012.