4 August 2022, Sittwe
Amid renewed tensions between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army (AA) in Arakan State, the junta has been handing down prison terms to those facing charges of terrorism related to the Arakanese ethnic armed group.
At least 19 people out of dozens who have been facing prolonged trial on suspicion of having ties to the Arakan Army were sentenced to prison in June and July this year, according to figures compiled by DMG, with some of the verdicts coming after more than two years of hearings and trial delays.
Of the 19 people sentenced to prison by the regime, eight are from Ramree Township, seven are from Ponnagyun Township, and one case each came out of the townships of Kyaukphyu, Mrauk-U, Sittwe and Rathedaung.
Most were arrested on suspicion of having links with the Arakan Army during the 2018-2020 fighting in Arakan State, and were subsequently charged with terrorism.
Ma Khin Than Htay, an elder sister of Ko Maung Saw Aye — a resident of Ai Tin village in Ponnagyun Toownship who was sentenced to three years in prison on July 20 — said her brother was unfairly arrested, charged and sentenced.
“My younger brother has no ties to the Arakan Army. … Arresting innocent people for a long time and then sentencing them to three years in prison is unfair,” she told DMG.
More than 200 people were charged under the Counter-Terrorism Law during the fighting in Arakan State, according to data compiled by local civil society organisations.
In late 2020, some of those arrested in connection with the AA were released on parole by the military junta.
“We have been unhappy since the day our children were unjustly arrested, but we cannot respond to the government,” said the mother of Ko Nyi Nyi Aung, a resident of Ponnagyun Township’s Kyaukseik village who was sentenced to three years in prison in July.
“I think it is unfair that some civilians are arrested on suspicion of having connections with the Arakan Army and charged with various counts. As family members, we cannot accept injustice in any way,” she added.
U Pe Than, an Arakanese politician, pointed out that the imprisonment of those arrested on suspicion of AA ties while relations between the two sides are increasingly tense has left people feeling anxious and vulnerable.
“The regime is attempting to finish the remaining cases against those arrested on suspicion amid military tension between the military and the AA,” the former MP said.
“The imprisonment of those arrested on suspicion of being related to the Arakan Army while the two sides are under military tension is a threat to the people. The military council is showing that if the Arakanese people support the AA, they will be arrested and imprisoned.”
There are still more than 40 people in Arakan State who are facing charges of terrorism related to the Arakan Army.
After 21 months of relative peace between the Arakan Army and Myanmar’s military, an informal ceasefire reached in November 2020 appears to be crumbling. Both sides have killed and taken captive the other’s personnel in recent weeks after months of escalating military tensions.