A National League for Democracy (NLD) official said the arrest of an anti-military activist in front of Yangon’s city hall this morning was justified because he may have been attempting to drive a wedge between the ruling party and the military.
“Are they attempting to divide the current NLD government and the Tatmadaw? We have to investigate their intentions and their goals,” he told Coconuts by phone today.
Anti-military activist Htin Kyaw was arrested while holding a holding a one-man protest calling for the United Nations and the International Criminal Court to “arrest Myanmar’s murderous generals” this morning.
After his arrest, Htin Kyaw was brought to the Kyauktada Township police station before being transferred to Yankin Township, where he was charged under Section 505(b) of Myanmar’s penal code, which prohibits the dissemination of information that could disrupt public tranquility.
Strangely, however, his charge sheet does not mention today’s protest. Instead, it refers to a protest Htin Kyaw staged on July 12 in front of the Yankin District courthouse.
As director of the Movement for Democracy Current Forces (MDCF), Htin Kyaw has participated in several high-profile protests and has been sentenced to more than a decade in prison in total. During previous protests, he has allegedly urged the NLD to prevent the military from bullying the public. One of his prison stints ended when he received amnesty from Myanmar’s previous president, with whom he shares the same name.
Although other members of MDCF appeared at Htin Kyaw’s protest this morning, they were not arrested because of a legal loophole that distinguishes protesting from supporting a protest.
Mat Dee, Htin Kyaw’s brother, said he and the other MDCF members were caught off-guard by the police action because they were not expecting him to face charges for a previous alleged crime.
Unaware that Htin Kyaw had been charged for a different protest, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt offered additional justifications for his arrest.
“In the six townships in Yangon’s downtown, we have banned protests. If you want the public to know about your cause, you can call journalists and the media and set up a press conference. However, protests in front of the City Hall make me suspicious,” he told Coconuts.
The spokesman’s remarks come a few days after he publicly rejected the conclusion of a UN-appointed fact-finding mission that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya last year.
“We’ve said it before – there were no gross human rights abuses in northern Rakhine. If there were, you must show us the evidence, and we will take action. The evidence must be strong, and we can’t rely on conjecture,” he said.
During the same interview, he also repeated the claim often pushed by the Myanmar military that the Rohingya are exploiting international sympathy in order to “establish their own sovereign land with support from people versed in international law and with money.”