Imprisoned ‘Rambo’ star declares solidarity with detained journalists

Ko Min Htay awaits a court hearing at the Banmaw police station on July 10, 2017.

Rambo star and former rebel leader Ko Min Htay has called for the repeal of Myanmar’s Unlawful Associations Act and the release of three journalists who were detained by the military in a case that is drawing international attention to Myanmar’s dwindling of freedoms and draconian laws.

Reporters Aye Naing, Pyae Bone Aung, and Lawi Weng were arrested late last month after covering an event organized by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army – a group that remains at war with the Myanmar government. They were charged a few days later under Section 17 of the Unlawful Associations Act, which prohibits meeting with members of outlawed organizations and carries a penalty of between two and three years in prison.

Like the three reporters, the Rambo star remains in detention while he faces charges under the Unlawful Associations Act for having ties to an ethnic armed organization.

Speaking to Coconuts from the Banmaw police station in Kachin State just before his court hearing this afternoon, Ko Min Htay declared his support for the three reporters.

ko min htay handcuffed
Ko Min Htay waits in handcuffs at the Banmaw police station.

He said: “A reporter’s job is to give information to the people. That is his responsibility. Just like a medical doctor is responsible to treat patients, whether they are revolutionaries or government soldiers, a reporter must always try to get the news, not just government news.”

“For a reporter to be charged under the Unlawful Associations Act is nonsense. It cannot continue,” he added.

As a leading member of the All-Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), Ko Min Htay worked closely with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the 1980s and 1990s, when the two armed groups were allied in fighting the Myanmar military—long before he gained fame as the villain in the 2008 Sylvester Stallone film.

(In the 2000s, Ko Min Htay lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where many Myanmar exile journalists were based. He said he became friendly with reporter Lawi Weng during that time.)

Despite the fact that the ABSDF signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the government in 2015, Ko Min Htay was arrested at a military checkpoint in Momauk Township, Kachin State, in late December 2016 for illegally associating with the KIA, which has not signed the agreement and remains at war with the Myanmar military.

More than six months later, Ko Min Htay remains in Banmaw Prison. His trial may still be in its early stages. A judge is now in the process of deciding whether to try him for his role in Rambo, which a Myanmar army major claims is defamatory toward the army.

Facing the possibility of several years in prison, Ko Min Htay denounces the Myanmar law that is used to lock away people who are trying to improve the country.

“This law was used by the British to protect their colony and suppress Myanmar patriots,” he said. “But now, the Myanmar government uses the law to put pressure on the Myanmar people.”

He added: “The law is unreasonable, and it needs to be removed from Myanmar law.”

Just before walking into court today, Ko Min Htay said: “I feel a lack of democracy in this country. I feel like we are under the control of a dictatorship.”

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