Refugees International’s team meeting with Kyaw Hla Aung, left.
By Sushetha Gopallawa
August 13, 2013
During my recent visit to Myanmar, I met with human rights activist Kyaw Hla Aung in a Rohingya village in Sittwe Township, Rakhine State. We talked about his peaceful political activism, his public service, and his humanitarian work. But mostly we talked about how he and other village elders and leaders feared for their lives.
Two days before the meeting, a government-sponsored verification process in the nearby Rohingya displacement camps had increased communal tensions. Fearing the exercise was aimed at undermining their claims to citizenship, the Rohingya community refused to participate. The ensuing protests by Rohingya, though small in size, forced the government to abandon the verification process and sparked a wave of arrests of Rohingya activists.
Kyaw Hla Aung told us that he was not present in the camps when these incidents took place, yet he and other village leaders believed they could be arrested anyway. Police and border security agents (known as the NaSaKa) patrolled his village at least twice a day, so he tried to keep a low profile. When we spoke to him, he had not slept in his own bed in months. Unfortunately, his fears were realized on July 15, when he was arbitrarily arrested.
Kyaw Hla Aung is currently being detained at Sittwe Police Station No. 1. It is reported that this detention facility does not meet international standards, and Kyaw Hla Aung’s family members have been barred from visiting him. This 74-year-old human rights activist, who is in poor health and requires regular medication, has been deprived of the treatments he needs and has not seen a medical officer since being detained. He has also been denied access to a lawyer of his choice.
Appearing before the Sittwe District Court on July 31, Kyaw Hla Aung was charged with rioting while armed with a deadly weapon, hiring or conniving at hiring of persons to join an unlawful assembly, and voluntarily causing grievous hurt to a public servant to deter him from his duty. The rights group Frontline Defenders, however, described the case against him as “without merit.”
Myanmar’s repressive laws, which are used to detain dissidents and peaceful protesters, must be brought in line with international human rights standards. The ongoing targeting and arbitrary arrests of Kyaw Hla Aung and others like him must stop!
Kyaw Hla Aung is due to appear in Court later this week, and Amnesty International has launched a global campaign calling for him to be given:
• An unconditional release and the dismissal of charges;
• Immediate access to a medical officer and medications while in custody;
• Urgent access to a lawyer of his choice; and
• Detention facilities which meet minimum international standards as provided for in the UN Standard Minimum Rules on Treatment of Prisoners.
Please visit Amnesty International today and demand justice for Kyaw Hla Aung.