RANGOON—Six protesters against a copper mine were charged with inciting unrest at Kyauktadan and Papedan courts in Rangoon on Monday, according to some of the defendants, who briefly spoke with reporters and crowds that came to support them. The defendants’ lawyer said they all had been denied release on bail.
Dozens of supporters cheered the detainees Naw Ohn Hla, Wai Lu, Myo Chit, Daw Shan Ma, Nyi Nyi and Ye Lin Oo amid tight security at the courts. The group was arrested in recent days for their role in Nov. 26 protests in Rangoon calling for the closure of a China-financed copper mine in Letpadaung, near Monywa in Sagaing Division.
After leaving Kyauktadan Court the prison truck waited outside Papedan Court, where Ye Lin Too was able to speak with supporters and reporters from inside the waiting prison truck. He said the defendants had been charged under Article 505 B of the Penal Code for inciting unrest, a criminal offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.
Ye Lin Too said he had expected to be charged for protesting without notifying local authorities, adding that when he heard the incitement charge, “I knew that authorities had already decided to imprison us.” Yen Lin Too thanked the crowd for their support, saying that he felt like “60 million people are behind us.”
Only lawyer Aung Thein, who is defending two of the detainees, was allowed to attend the brief trial proceedings. He said they had been denied bail as Article 505 did not allow for a prisoner’s release.
“We appealed for their release on bail, but the court rejected it … They said the next trial would be on Dec. 11,” said Aung Thein.
As the prison truck drove off to take the group to Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison, detainee Wai Lu shouted to the crowds from inside. “This is against the law because the rights of citizens are being ignored. I thank all of you for coming to greet us,” he yelled.
His mother, San Ye, told The Irrawaddy that police came to his Rangoon home and asked him to come along for some questions, adding that he was even allowed to pass by his family’s home to kiss his mother goodbye. Only later in the afternoon did she learn that he was sent to Insein Prison.
“I just want to ask why they [authorities] have arrested my son, who is doing for the good of the people,” she said. “Everybody knows that even monks were treated badly and wounded in protest against this project.”
Members of the prominent 88 Generation Students Group, such as Jimmy, Nilar Thein and Mee Mee were among those expressing support outside the court, and they brought food for the detained activists.
Jimmy told the crowds that they would closely observe the trial and would demand that the process was fair and defendants’ rights were respected. He said his group had warned the authorities not to respond violently to the protest against the copper mine project.
However, on Nov. 29 local authorities at Letpadaung held a brutal dawn raid on several protester camps that injured dozens of protesters, mostly Buddhist monks who suffered severe burns all over their bodies. Currently, 96 monks are being hospitalized in Mandalay.
“We have to find out who was responsible and what kinds of weapons were used, and those responsible must be held accountable,” Jimmy said.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will lead a special commission to assess the social and environmental impact of the project and whether it should continue. The crackdown, however, is not in its purview, the government announced on Monday.
The violent crackdown sparked popular protests in front of the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon over the weekend. Some its protest leaders were arrested on Saturday, including Burmese activists Moe Thway, Aung Soe and former monk Gambira, who are now being detained in Insein Prison.
Gambira was previously jailed for four years following his leading role instigating the nationwide monk-led Saffron Revolution democracy uprising of 2007. Some reports also suggested that Gambira is being detained at an unknown location, even though it was reported that he was taken to Insein prison. Moe Thway is a leading member of the well-known activist group in Rangoon known as Generation Wave.