Fortify Rights on Thursday said Myanmar authorities should immediately drop criminal complaints against Sa Thein Zaw Min and Saw Kwar Ler, two ethnic Karen human rights defenders who organized and attended a gathering in Yangon to commemorate Karen Martyrs’ Day.
Kyauktada Township police interrupted the scheduled event on Wednesday and arrested the two organisers, accusing them of holding the event past the permitted time period.
The two human rights defenders face up to one month’s imprisonment and/or 10,000 Myanmar Kyat (US$7.25) in fines under Section 20 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law (the “Peaceful Assembly Law”) for allegedly violating conditions set by the authorities for the gathering.
“Myanmar’s relentless assault on freedom of expression must stop,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights.
“Marking the anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day is not a crime, and the complaint against Sa Thein Zaw Min and Saw Kwar Ler should be dropped," he said.
On August 12, ethnic-Karen human rights defenders organised a gathering in Maha Bandula Park located in front of Yangon City Hall to mark the 70th anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day.
According to the organisers, the authorities granted permission to hold the gathering from 8 am and to 2 pm.
However, the Kyauktada Township police interrupted the event and arrested the two organizers around 11:30 am, claiming that permission had only been granted for the event to continue to 11:00 am, according to a media release.
The police held Sa Thein Zaw Min, 23, and Saw Kwar Ler, 22, at the Kyauktada Township police station before releasing them on personal recognizance.
Karen Martyrs’ Day commemorates the death of Karen leader Saw Ba U Kyi, a founding father of the Karen National Union (KNU), who the Myanmar army killed in 1950. The Myanmar military and the KNU’s army—the Karen National Liberation Army—have been at war since 1949.