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Hundreds of CSOs decry arrest of anti-war protesters

Anti-war protesters and police confront each other at a demonstration in Yangon on May 12. (Photo: DVB)

Nearly 400 civil society organisations in Burma released a joint statement on Tuesday demanding the release of activists who were detained and are facing charges for their role in an anti-war protest in Yangon on May 12.

The statement, co-signed by 391 CSOs, said the use of violence by riot police and nationalist counter-protesters against peaceful demonstrators near the Tamwe junction was intentional and unlawful.

“The so-called nationalists who stood behind police officials taunted, cursed and threw projectiles at the protesters, who were calling for peace, but the police did not make any particular attempt to stop them,” said the statement.

The CSOs demanded that authorities drop charges against all individuals detained for participating in the demonstration and take action against any counter-protesters and police personnel involved in roughing up the anti-war activists.

On Monday, police in Bahan Township charged nine protesters under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, adding to a tally of eight other participants in Saturday’s demonstration facing legal action.

“Nine of us were informed by the police last night of the charges against us,” said Shar Yamone. “We are going to the police station at 4 p.m. today to discuss the case.”

Initially, the eight other protest participants were detained on Saturday and released on bail the following day.

Anti-war activists gathered again in downtown Yangon’s Maha Bandoola Park on Monday for a poetry recital calling for peace and an end to war in Burma. Kyauktada Township police and administration officials showed up at the event and attempted to shut it down, saying organisers had not sought official permission in advance.

Zayar Lwin, a former Yangon University student union leader who gave a speech at the event and was one of the eight arrested on Saturday, said police officials when they arrived informed him that he would face an additional charge under the Peaceful Assembly Law, for organising an unlawful public gathering. He said he was told to go to the local police station with them but refused.

“I told them to send me an official document, and that I only gave a speech at the event but was not an organiser,” said Zayar Lwin.

Burma remains plagued by civil war between the central government and several ethnic armed groups, with some conflicts’ origins dating back decades. Fighting in Kachin State has escalated in recent weeks, displacing thousands of civilians — the latest victims of a protracted armed struggle that, since 2011, has pitted government troops against the Kachin Independence Army.