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ERI calls for release of activist charged with sedition

Khaing Myo Htun (Photo: EarthRights International)

An activist who was arrested last week on charges of sedition and incitement after accusing Burma’s armed forces of abuses against civilians in Arakan State should be released immediately, according to human rights and environmental justice group EarthRights International (ERI).

In a statement released on Thursday, the group said that the charges against Khaing Myo Htun, an environmentalist and human rights activist who is also a spokesperson for the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), were an attempt to stifle criticism of the military.

“The army has once again demonstrated its ruthlessness and unwillingness to change by going after activists who dare to expose its abuses, despite the introduction of a new democratic government,” ERI’s executive director, Ka Hsaw Wa, said in the statement.

Contacted by phone on Thursday, the group’s campaigns director, Naing Htoo, told DVB that Khaing Myo Htun is currently being held in Sittwe Prison and is scheduled to attend a court hearing on Friday.

Naing Htoo said that Khaing Myo Htun was arrested last week after failing to appear for two previous hearings because he was traveling for work when the summonses were delivered to his home.

The charges relate to claims made by Khaing Myo Htun in late April that “the Burmese army captured some locals as prisoners of war and has executed them on several occasions” — claims that he said he could back up with evidence.

Although the ALP — one of the signatories of last year’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreementdismissed Khaing Myo Htun from his executive position in mid-May, the group still stands by his claims, according to Naing Htoo.

“It is totally believed by the ALP that this is a human rights violation by the army under international law,” he said, adding that ERI had also reviewed the evidence and deemed it credible.

The evidence was also consistent with a report released by another rights groups, Fortify Rights, in March.

The charges against Khaing Myo Htun include one of sedition under Articles 505(b) and (c) of the Penal Code. His lawyer, Oo Kyaw Thein, said the charges appeared to be politically motivated and “have no grounding in the law”.

Human rights groups are calling on the government to take the allegations of army misconduct seriously and launch an independent inquiry.

Khaing Myo Htun and ERI say they are hoping he will at least get bail on medical grounds as he suffers from a weak nervous system and requires daily medicine.