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Thirty-one residents of Burma’s western Arakan State attended court dates over Thursday and Friday, charged with associating with the Arakan Army (AA).
The defendants were taken to Kyauktaw court for hearings in their cases. They face charges under the Unlawful Association Act.
Over the past month, dozens of suspects have been rounded up by military officials from areas including Kyauktaw, Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Ponnakyun, Rathedaung, Kyaukphyu, Mrauk-U, Myebon, Minbya and Paletwa townships.
Defence attorney Oo Tun La told DVB that 11 of the accused appeared in court on 28 May, and 20 more on 29 May. One more individual is scheduled for a court appearance on 2 June.
“Today [Friday], 20 men were brought to a hearing where they are facing charges under articles 17(1) and 17(2) of the Unlawful Association Act*. The prosecutor in the case is Kyauktaw’s police chief Min Lwin, but a captain in Military Operations Command 9 attended the hearing today and presented evidence against the defendants – so it is clearly him who filed the charges,” said Oo Tun Hla.
A resident of Minbya Township’s Ngazinyine Chaung village told DVB that a local schoolteacher called Shwe Lone was among those being held.
“Shwe Lone was arrested by officials last month. We don’t know whether he is really connected with the Arakan Army or not, but he is a schoolteacher and we think that he is innocent,” said the villager, talking under condition of anonymity.
“He is a known social worker and we are sad to see him arrested.”
Speaking to DVB last week, AA’s Vice Chief-of-Staff Nyo Tun Aung said it is a well-known government tactic to prosecute locals for alleged connections to rebel groups across Burma in order to dispirit the armed resistance. However he did also confirm that members of the AA are among those detained in Kyauktaw.
“There have been examples in the past with the government prosecuting revolutionaries – not only the Arakanese but also other ethnic groups – in order to demoralise armed struggles,” said Nyo Tun Aung.
*Article 17(1) for making an unlawful association, and Article 17(2) for managing an unlawful association.