Dramatic scenes unfolded in Myitkyina on Monday when a local court sentenced two Kachin peace activists to prison for their role in organizing an “unauthorized” performance to mark the 8th anniversary of the Kachin conflict earlier this year.
In order to mark the bitter anniversary youth from families displaced by the conflict reenacted airstrikes and other recent scenes from the Kachin hills. A 17-year-ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Myanmar army came to an abrupt end on June 9th, 2011. The resulting conflict has driven more than 100,000 people from their homes, many of whom remain in displaced person camps.
Although authorities had told been informed more than 48 hours in advance of the event, which saw many young people from local internally displaced person camps brought in to take part, officials who showed up at Myitkyina’s Sein Mya Ayeyar Park claimed they had not been told of the performance aspect and intervened to shut it down. The performance was eventually moved to another public space in the Kachin State capital.
Pau Lu and Seng Nu Pan were then charged the day after the performance by Police Officer Min Thant Zaw with violating section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for their roles in organizing the event.
Weeks of hearings on the alleged illegal performance culminated in a show of defiance as Pau Lu and Seng Nu Pan chose not to pay a 30,000 Kyat ($19.6 USD) fine imposed by the court, opting instead to serve a hard time. It appears the lengthy legal ordeal has not zapped Pau Lu’s enthusiasm for the performing arts as after the judge sentenced the pair to fifteen-day jail terms Pau Lu handed him a broken scale. He and his co-accused were then loaded into a paddy wagon in front of dozens of supporters, many of whom loudly called for their release.
“We are sentenced to serve 15 days in prison or pay a 30,000 Kyat ($19.6 USD) fine. If they allowed us to pay the fine at the beginning of this case, we would have paid it. Actually we don’t have any guilt. We spent nearly two months on trial. We only did street performances, not a demonstration. We aren’t guilty, therefore, we refuse to pay the fine,” Pau Lu told KNG before being led away.
Reached for comment the interim head of the newly formed Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP) criticized the judge’s decision. “In my opinion, the township court should not have sentenced them. This case is not a big issue. Burma is now heading to be a democratic country. We need freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” said Dr. Manam Tuja, a trained dentist who before entering politics had served for many years as a senior official in the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).