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A court hearing for Latpadaung activists Naw Ohn Hla, Nay Myo Zin, Sein Htay and Tin Htut Paing was postponed on Tuesday on the grounds that not all defendants were present.
“The hearing was reappointed for 20 January as only four of the seven defendants in this case had been detained to date,” said defence lawyer Robert San Aung. “Then, following the judge’s decision to postpone the hearing, a fifth defendant, San San Win, turned herself in.”
He said two other defendants, Thant Zin and Mya Nyunt, are still at large.
The activists have been charged with: defamation of the state; and disturbing officials on duty.
As supporters and media gathered in a scrum outside the Dagon Township courthouse, Naw Ohn Hla told reporters that “none of this would be happening if police had not closed the road that demonstrators [against the Latpadaung copper mine project] were marching on.”
On 29 December, hundreds of protestors held a rally in Rangoon and attempted to lay a wreath in front of the Chinese embassy to condemn the death of Latpadaung villager Khin Win who was fatally shot in a confrontation with riot police at the site of the Chinese-backed copper mine project near Monywa in Sagaing Division.
The Chinese embassy in Rangoon released a statement on 25 December, expressing its “deep condolences” over the death of villager Khin Win, who was shot in the head on 22 December while protesting the laying of fences around disputed plots of land at the copper mine site.
The embassy further remarked that Chinese workers have been attacked at the site while peacefully implementing the project.
“The Letpadaung mining project is an important joint [venture] between China and Myanmar, and we support the Letpadaung project [being] implemented in a peaceful and secure manner, and oppose any kind of violence,” the statement said.
Hundreds of local villagers and their supporters have been protesting the Latpadaung copper mine since its inception more than 10 years ago. Many have been displaced to make way for the project, which was originally contracted to a Canadian firm, Ivanhoe Mines.
The controversial mine was temporarily suspended when activists and Buddhist monks staged a mass sit-in protest in 2012. The protest was broken up brutally by riot police on 29 November that year when some 80 protestors were injured, including several monks, many with horrific burns that experts have attributed to white phosphorous.
A subsequent investigation headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi failed to pronounce anyone guilty for the violent crackdown, and to many villagers’ dismay, recommended to the government that the project be resumed.
Since Khin Win’s killing, Suu Kyi has blamed the violence on the Latpadaung Working Committee, accusing it of failing to implement the suggestions of her investigative commission.
Tin Myint, secretary of the committee, rejected Suu Kyi’s remarks and told reporters on 8 January that his committee is seriously evaluating and implementing the suggestions of the commission.