An international human rights watchdog has called for the immediate release of 14 people jailed over a long-running protest against an alleged land grab at Michaungkan in Yangon’s Thingangyun Township.
The appeal by Amnesty International on behalf of the 14 protesters came after they were each sentenced to six months’ jail by Yangon’s downtown Kyauktada Township Court on February 18.
“They are prisoners of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released,” Amnesty said of the 11 women aged between 34 and 68 and three men aged from 33 to 44.
The Michaungkan community, that has been protesting peacefully for compensation and the return of land it says was confiscated by the Tatmadaw in 1990s, began a sit-in demonstration last March next to Maha Bandoola Gardens in downtown Yangon.
Some members of the community moved the sit-in closer to nearby Yangon City Hall on December 12 and the 14 were arrested when police disbanded the site on December 23.
Amnesty said the Michaungkan 14 had been sentenced for their participation in both sit-in protests.
“They were each sentenced to five months in prison for the December sit-in protest near Yangon City Hall – one month for protesting without permission under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, three months for ‘unlawful assembly’ under Article 143 of Myanmar’s Penal Code and one month for obstruction under Article 341 of the Penal Code,” Amnesty said.
It said they were also each sentenced to one months’ imprisonment under Article 18 for the earlier sit-in protest next to Maha Bandoola Gardens.
The 14 are detained in Insein prison and are planning to appeal against their convictions, Amnesty said, adding that it was concerned the authorities were targetting people involved or associated with the protests.
“In September 2014, Michaungkan community leader U Sein Than was sentenced to two year’ imprisonment for protesting without permission and obstruction,” it said.
“U Sein Than’s daughter and four others were also charged with protesting without permission outside one of U Sein Than’s court hearings,” Amnesty said.
It said that on December 18 last year, political activist Ko Wai Lu was arrested while offering support to the protesters and was subsequently charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code.
It prohibits spreading statements that cause alarm or induce others to commit an offence against the state or the public.