Written by Phadu Tun Aung / DMG
Hordes of people are requesting authorities to enter the compound of the Sittwe district court, where well-armed police are positioned in force, while supporters of Dr. Aye Maung are waiting there holding flowers with the hope of hearing good news.
Since they were denied requests, people are standing by the road. Regional authorities soon told them that those who can show their ID card can enter the court. People therefore, who possess their ID card are assembled up in a queue to enter the court while others are going home to retrieve their ID card. Those who are far from home are standing outside the compound of the court.
On March 19 the district judge sentenced former Arakan National Party leader Dr Aye Maung and author Wai Hun Aung who have been facing trial for sedition and high treason. That’s why local people across Arakan State, from locations such as Sittwe, Minbya, Rathedaung and Ponnagyun Townships congregated in front of the court.
People who support the duo are crying, “May you both be acquitted” when they saw the accused arrived the court. But their hopes were shattered by the order of the judge.
The court imposed a 20-year imprisonment for Dr Aye Maung and author Wai Hun Aung for incitement and high treason, to run concurrently.
Thus, politicians and people have expressed criticism that the court’s verdict on the politician and the author is severe and the incarceration time is too long, it should not be determined under the civilian government elected by people.
“From my point of view, the charge of high treason is exceedingly harsh. The charge for incitement is enough, I think. Anyway, being treated as a political prisoner under the civilian government is not a good sign,” said U Maung Maung Soe, a political analyst.
The politician and the author have been charged for speeches given in a public event to mark the end of the Arakan Kingdom held on January 15 in 2018. Their case against them was for incitement, high treason and connection with an unlawful association.
The government released a statement in which it said that Dr Aye Maung said in the event that Bama people treated the Arakanese like their personal slaves and never gave them equal rights and there were only two ways to restore the State’s sovereignty; some people resorted to armed revolt but he was seeking solutions through people-centered politics.
Moreover, author Wai Hun Aung said that Arakan had lost its sovereignty for 233 years, it means about five generations were not free people.
Some Arakanese relied on physical force as a means to achieve their goals because their voices and words were falling upon deaf ears in the conventional political arena.
The Arakan Army headed by Twan Mrat Naing was now undertaking an armed struggle to restore Arakan State and its self-determination and emancipation from the constraints of Bama people, and all people from Rathedaung Township had a civic duty to participate in the struggle, the government said.
For making such remarks in their speech at the literary talk, both of them were charged on three counts. But the district court dismissed one count: connection with an unlawful association because of the lack of evidence. So, the court handed down the verdict for the other two charges.
Dr Nyo Nyo Thin, former MP of Yangon Region Hluttaw and founder of Yangon Watch, said:
“They might have made some remarks that pleased Arakan people. But there’s no need for other people to take such extreme offence for such remarks. And, freedom of expression should be granted, especially to politicians and public servants. If not, people will raise questions about the degree and integrity of the democratic process practiced in our country today.”
Daw Aye Nu Sein, lawyer for author Wai Hun Aung, said that the verdict was based on existing laws because they were indicted on three charges and punishment was for two charges for one offence.
According to section 22 of the 1973 Interpretation of Expressions Law and section 453 of the 2008 Constitution, an act of a person shall be indicted one time and punished one time although the act can be charged for many offences.
“It became apparent that the judgement goes against the grain of existing laws in Myanmar,” she said.
Dr Aye Maung worked as chairperson of the Arakan National Party in 2010, and he was a former MP in Amyotha Hluttaw. During that time, he established a congenial and productive working relationship with MPs from the NLD.
Moreover, he was an active MP in Myanmar’s political arena. As a representative of an ethnic group, he participated in meeting with state leaders before the 2015 election during the tenures of president U Thein Sein, Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, NLD’s chairperson Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and parliament speakers Thura U Shwe Man and U Khin Aung Myint.
Meanwhile, he proposed decisive proposals and engaged in dialogues in the parliament relating to Muslim issues. So, he received the full support of Arakanese people.
People strongly supported him when he said Arakanese people should have the rights to manage resources extracted from Arakan State, the rights of self-administration and self-determination.
On the other hand, Arakanese people support author Wai Hun Aung. He himself provided relief and rescue aid for locals during violence in the Maungdaw region between 2016 and 2017.
That’s why he gained widespread popularity and adoration from local people. In addition, he provided relief and rescue aid during natural disasters, making him popular and achieved strong public support.
Thus, Arakanese people have been angry since the pair were arrested. They held prayer services and demanded the release of Dr Aye Maung and author Wai Hun Aung.
The current situation in Arakan State is a catastrophic tumult of thousands of problems.
Relations between local residents and the National League for Democracy are strained.
Meanwhile, armed conflicts between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) and the Arakan Army have been escalating, and the number of IDPs surpassed 30,000 people so far.
While government aid for IDPs has been sparse up to now, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi instructed the Tatamdaw to decisively crack down on the AA.
These kinds of actions only foment more distrust and hostility among Arakanese people towards the government.
Thus, observers predicted that ordering the long-term imprisonment to the duo in such a situation could tarnish the relationships between the NLD government and Arakan people.
Dr Nyo Nyo Thin said: “It becomes a kind of mounting flame that burns with bitter resentment among the Arakanese people. It could work people up to a fever pitch of anger.”
Presently, the AA is seeking to gain a foothold in Arakan State. The long-term punishment to Dr Aye Maung and author Wai Hun Aung at this moment could result in making Arakanese people more nationalistic which could lead to forceful attacks against the government rather than resolving issues through a peaceful and pragmatic means, political observers said.
Ko Min Thway Thit, a member of the Students’ Union for Eastern University was sent to jail for his involvement in protesting the controversial National Education Law, he said: “ In fact, the steady growth of nationalism is an enormous challenge to the international community.”
“It is not a good situation because it could lead to an influence of some kind of ideology that includes the suffix “ism”, such as fascism. We need to find and understand the root cause of the rising tide of nationalism in order to be able to resolve the problem,” he said.
Dr Nyo Nyo Thin thought that the verdict given amid ongoing conflicts and tension between the government and the local political party was not a good decision and does not support the rule of law.
“It is a decision that affects the interests of ethnic people and the country in the long run,” she said.
U Tun Aung Kyaw, general secretary of the Arakan National Party (ANP), said the verdict made in the midst of ongoing conflicts will only put the idea of national reconciliation and the peace process further out of reach.
The council for Dr Aye Maung has appealed to the High Court of the Arakan State against the sentence. But author Wai Hun Aung would not appeal to the courtroom, his lawyer Daw Aye Nu Sein said.
Arakanese people would be happy to hear that Dr Aye Maung and author Wai Hun Aung were acquitted, up to now people have criticized the verdict that they see as unfair and partial.
“I want authorities, especially the President, to do something about the verdict to satisfy Arakanese people using the power of his mandate,” said Dr Nyo Nyo Thin.