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Phyu Hnin Htwe, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and a student at Mandalay’s Yadanabon University, walked free from a Sagaing Division courthouse after kidnapping charges against her were dropped.
The young activist had been on trial for allegedly kidnapping following an incident at the Latpadaung copper mine in May, during which two employees of Wanbao, the Chinese company that operates the mine, were detained. The controversial mine has witnessed a string of protests since November 2012, with local residents and their allies from broader Burmese civil society demanding it be shut down.
“The charges against me and the Latpadaung villagers were unfair from the beginning,” Phyu Hnin Htwe told DVB after her release on Wednesday. “As we are all innocent, I see my release as truth prevailing.”
She maintains that she was not even in the town of Sete on 18 May, when the incident occurred, which she claims underscores her innocence and that of her fellow campaigners. “I was in the nearby village of Tonywa,” she said.
Following her arrest in September, she was charged under sections 346 and 368 of Burma’s penal code – which proscribe kidnapping with intent to murder and wrongful confinement – and faced up to ten years behind bars. Villagers released the two Wanbao employees the day after their apprehension.
According to ABFSU spokesman Ye Yint Kyaw, Wanbao formally repealed the charges at her fifth hearing, which occurred at Yinmabin District Court some 15 kilometres northwest of Latpadaung. Two weeks ago, she was denied bail as Wanbao vowed to main the charges against her.
Upon her release, the 21-year old was greeted by dozens of supporters, family members and villagers from Latpadaung, whose cause the young woman had championed until her arrest.
“Phyu Hnin Htwe and ABFSU would like to extend gratitude to the civil society organisations that have assisted her in the trial,” Ye Yint Kyaw said following her release. “However, our fight must continue, as we still have more members on trial facing various charges.”