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UN expert dismayed by jail terms for Kachin activists

A UN human rights expert has expressed her dismay at the imprisonment of three ethnic Kachin activists for allegedly criticizing the Myanmar military during peaceful demonstrations in April.

“It is wholly unacceptable that Lum Zawng, Nang Pu and Zau Jet have been sent to jail merely for making statements about the military’s actions,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee. “I am seriously concerned by the continual shrinking of the democratic space in Myanmar, and the culture of fear that now exists.”

In April 2018, thousands of civilians fled fighting between the military and ethnic armed groups, prompting demonstrations in Kachin and other locations in Myanmar.

At a news conference on 30 April, Lum Zawng is said to have called for the evacuation of civilians trapped in conflict areas. At demonstrations in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina on 30 April and 1 May, Nang Pu allegedly said that the military had prevented civilians from leaving conflict areas and that some had been killed. Zau Jet reportedly said the military had displaced 2,000 civilians from Hpakant Township and attacked civilians.

On 8 May 2018, Lum Zawng, Nang Pu and Zau Jet were charged with defamation under section 500 of the Myanmar Penal Code. Last Friday they were convicted and sentenced to six months in prison and fined K500,000 each.

“This is yet another case in which the Myanmar Government is failing to uphold human rights and democratic principles, and is using an archaic law that is contrary to accepted human rights principles as a weapon against human rights defenders,” Lee said.

Following Friday’s result, Kachin activists Brang Mai, Seng Hkum Awng and Sut Seng Htoi conducted a protest against the convictions, and were arrested for not seeking permission for the protest.

“I call on the Myanmar authorities to amend unjust laws including section 500 of the Penal Code, to nullify the convictions and release all three activists without delay, and stop arresting people for exercising their right of peaceful protest.”

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