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Activists jailed under tough new protest law

Opponents of Myanmar-China pipeline get three-month terms

<p>The Myanmar-China Shwe pipeline (image: China National Petroleum Corporation)</p>

The Myanmar-China Shwe pipeline (image: China National Petroleum Corporation)

  • Thomas Toe and John Zaw, Yangon
  • Myanmar
  • September 27, 2013
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A court in western Myanmar yesterday sentenced 10 activists to three months in prison for protesting against a major new oil and gas pipeline built by China’s largest state-owned energy company.

In a trial lasting just 45 minutes, the activists became the first group to be found guilty of violating a new law which permits protests in reforming Myanmar, but only with prior permission.

Htein Lin, the lawyer for the group, said the harsh punishment represented a warning by authorities that they will strictly enforce the protest law amid complaints that the activists had sought prior permission to demonstrate but were denied.

“We will make an appeal to the court … against this verdict,” he said.

About 100 police and fire engines encircled the court yesterday in western Rakhine state’s Kyauk Phyu, the start of the pipeline, as angry villagers protested, shouting that the law was unfair.

Win Myaing, a spokesman for the Rakhine state authorities, declined to comment on the case of the jailed activists but said that people had to follow the law.

The 10 activists were arrested for leading protests in April outside the Kyauk Phyu office of China National Petroleum Corporation, developer of the US$14.2–million Shwe Gas pipeline, with villagers complainting over compensation for lost land and what they say are low salaries paid to local workers.

A number of farmers have been imprisoned for similar protests this year and at least 100 activists await trial under the assembly law. But rights groups say that yesterday’s trial was the biggest of its kind since Myanmar’s fledgling parliament passed the controversial Article 18 in 2011.

Sandar Min, an MP for Aung San Suu Kyi’s main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), warned the government that “hatred may grow” if the authorities were insistent on sending people to prison for violating the assembly law.

“If it’s not serious, only light punishment should be handed down, only a fine,” she said.

The NLD, one of the main opponents of such laws when Myanmar was ruled by military dictatorship, has since February called on parliament to discuss and review the assembly law which may happen in the upcoming session, said another NLD lawmaker Win Myint.

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