The five villagers from Ponnagyun and neighbouring Mrauk-U townships were beaten during interrogation by Myanmar military soldiers aboard a naval vessel.

DMG Newsroom
6 July 2022, Ponnagyun

The Sittwe District Court on Wednesday sentenced five men from Kyaukseik village, Ponnagyun Township, and its vicinity to three years in prison with hard labour under Section 52(a) of the Counter-Terrorism Law.

The five men, who were acccused of having illegal ties to the Arakan Army (AA), had been facing two charges under Sections 50(j) and 52(a) of the Counter-Terrorism Law, but were only found guilty of the latter.

Section 52(a) stipulates a sentence of three to seven years in prison for activities that “knowingly involve a terrorist group.”

“They have been sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour,” defence lawyer U Kyaw Nyunt Maung told DMG. “They have been detained in custody for two years and two months. They were to have two years and two months taken off of their three years in prison [for time served].”

The five men are Ko Nyi Nyi Aung, Ko Aung Myo Lin, and Ko Maung Chay from Kyaukseik village; Ko Min Soe from Ponnagyun town; and Ko Kyaw Win Hein of Zeebingyi village in neighbouring Mrauk-U Township. The five defendants were arrested by the Myanmar military on April 19, 2020.

A video of the five villagers being beaten during interrogation by Myanmar military soldiers aboard a naval vessel was shared widely on social media in May 2020. The Myanmar military subsequently acknowledged that some of its personnel had engaged in unlawful interrogation techniques and pledged to “take action” against the wrongdoers, though no information has been made public about any resultant punishment.

The five villagers, meanwhile, had faced repeated trial delays prior to Wednesday’s verdict.

“I don’t think this court decision is fair,” said Wai Hun Aung, a writer and former political prisoner. “These people have been in custody for more than two years. These people are civilians and have been tortured in custody. I was very sorry to hear that. It’s clear that this decision is not fair to them.”

Despite the court ruling, family members on Wednesday continued to insist that the five men are innocent.

“My son is not guilty and did nothing wrong. I don’t understand why the court made that decision. We were allowed to meet him briefly during the court hearing,” said U Kyaw Gyi, the father of Ko Min Soe.

“The court sentenced them to three years in prison. He was a breadwinner in my family and was arrested without a warrant,” said Daw Ma Khin Nu, the mother of Ko Maung Chay. “I will be happy if my son is released from prison. My son is innocent and the court didn’t explain about the verdict.”

In March 2020, the government declared the Arakan Army to be a terrorist group and unlawful association. But on March 11, 2021, the Anti-Terrorism Central Committee reversed course and said it had removed the AA from its list of terrorist groups.

The military junta that seized power on February 1, 2021, has withdrawn some terrorism cases since the Anti-Terrorism Central Committee de-listed the Arakan Army. But some notable cases, such as that of the Kyaukseik villagers, were not dropped.

Pin It