RANGOON — A Rangoon court sentenced two rights activists to six months’ imprisonment on Wednesday because they distributed pamphlets
that accused President Thein Sein’s government of abuse of power, a local activist said.
Rangoon authorities detained Tin Maung Kyi and Zaw Win, of the Movement Democracy Continuous Force., in May after they distributed pamphlets in Bahan, Thamwe, Mingala Taungnyut and Kyauktada townships.
Fellow activist Sein Htwe, 49, said the pamphlets warned the public not to trust Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government and its reform agenda, and they claimed that power still rests with the former and active members of the military and well-connected businessmen.
The two men were arrested by Kyauktada authorities on May 9, shortly after they began distributing the pamphlets, according to Sein Htwe. “They were charged under Article 505 (b), as they wrote on pamphlets telling the people not accept this power-abusing government,” she said.
Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code is a broadly defined charge punishing those who spread or make statements that can “alarm the public” or “whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state.” The charge was widely used to crush dissent under the former military regime and carries a maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment.
Tin Maung Kyi and Zaw Win were charged and convicted in several townships where they spread their pamphlets, but will serve only one six months sentence.
Sein Htwe said the two had been defending the public’s interest and should have not been locked up. “They did nothing wrong. It’s true that the people suffer under this government. [Authorities] grabbed land by using their laws [against the public] while they are above the law. The worst thing is that people become homeless after the government takes these actions,” she said.
The Movement Democracy Continuous Force. is a small but active rights group that has been protesting against the previous military government and what it sees as injustices under the current government. In recent years, the group has focused on the increasing number of land-grabbing cases in Burma involving well-connected businessmen.
The group’s director Htin Kyaw has spent several stints in prison for political reasons and he is currently serving a one-year sentence, handed to him in early May, after he led an unauthorized protest, which is punishable under the Peaceful Assembly Law.
Rober San Aung, a senior lawyer who provides free counsel for rights activists facing court charges, said of Wednesday’s case, “It is sad to see authorities keep sentencing right activists who work for the community. These victims did not violate any law; they just help the people.”
The sentences handed down on Wednesday add to list of dozens of prisoners who are detained for political offenses under the current government.
Thousands of political prisoners were released after Thein Sein’s reformist government took office in 2011 and he has publicly pledged to release all such prisoners by the end of 2013.
According to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), however, there were still 65 political prisoners by the end of June, with 102 activists awaiting trial for political actions. Rights activists have warned that people are still being locked for political reasons.
Early this month, three editors of the Rangoon-based Bi Mon Te Nay newspaper were detained and investigated for defamation after the published a front page story based on a statement of the Movement Democracy Continuous Force..
Last week, a Magwe Division Court sentenced four journalists and their CEO to 10 years’ imprisonment. Amnesty International has said it consider the five men to be political prisoners.