RANGOON — A Chin State Court has sentenced eight Chin rights activists to a US$30 fine each for holding a protest over an alleged rape attempt by a Burma Army soldier.
The court said on Wednesday that the activists—six men and two women—were guilty of violating the Peaceful Assembly Law’s Article 18, as they held an unauthorized protest.
Women’s rights campaign groups had asked the court to drop charges as the women are human rights activists who had sought official permission for the protest, but were turned down by local authorities.
“They are sentenced on Wednesday to a fine or one month imprisonment by the court in Chin State’s Matupi Township. Activists have chosen to pay the fine to avoid the prison sentences,” said Mai T. Sui Leng, director of Women’s Hand Myanmar Foundation, which assisted activists throughout the trial.
Ngai Sak, the activists’ lawyer, said, “Although the eight activists are sentenced for demonstrating without obtaining permission first in accordance with the law, they staged protests against sexual violence and to call for justice, which is the duty of officials.”
He added that she requested the court to consider punishing the activists with fines rather than prison sentences.
On June 10, a soldier from the Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 269 allegedly attacked and attempted to rape a 55-year-old woman near Razua, Matupi Township, Chin State. According to a local women’s group, the victim was badly injured and admitted to hospital in Razua.
About 600 Chin women in total staged protests in both Razua and Matupi on June 23 and 24, demanding that the soldier, who has been arrested, be properly punished.
Eight activists from Razua Women’s group, Matupi Women’s Association and the Matupi Youth Association were charged separately on July 4 and July 16 for staging protests without permission in Razua and Matupi.
Although accusations of rape and sexual assault by soldiers are frequently made in Burma’s ethnic regions, activists say few cases are properly investigated, and soldiers are often given light punishments under the military’s internal disciplinary system.
Burma’s government signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London last month, but rights groups are openly questioning its commitment to implementing the declaration and have pointed to the case against the Chin activists as evidence of its intransigence.
Mai T. Sui Leng said that although the rape suspect was arrested it remains unclear what charges have been brought against him and how he will be punished as the military has taken over the case from the police.
“We would like to have justice since this is not the first time there has been a rape case by a soldier [in Chin State] and in the former cases there was no justice,” she said, adding that authorities “instead of delivering justice, punish those who ask for justice.
“It shouldn’t be like this; we feel unsafe and it is really unfair,” she added.
May Sabe Phyu, senior coordinator from Gender Equality Network, said that in Burma it is often human rights defenders who get punished, while those in power who commit rights abuses walk free. “The criminal in the recent case of attempted rape must be sentenced,” she said.