Two Kachin youths who were found guilty on Monday of violating Burma’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law have decided to go to prison rather than pay a fine as their punishment.
Paul Lu and Seng Nu Pan were charged on June 10 under section 19 of the law for a street performance they held in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina the previous day to highlight the plight of civilians displaced by conflict in the state.
Although the fine for the offense is just 30,000 kyat (less than US$20), the pair have refused to pay it because they feel they have done nothing wrong, despite the guilty sentence.
“The sentence is a 30,000 kyat fine. If they don’t pay it, they have to serve 15 days in prison. They said they wouldn’t pay, so they have been sent to prison for 15 days,” their lawyer, Mar Hkar, told NMG.
Paul Lu and Seng Nu Pan led a street performance in Myitkyina on June 9 to ark the eighth anniversary of the war in Kachin State, which started in 2011 after the collapse of a ceasefire agreement between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) signed in 1994.
They were found guilty on Monday of holding an unauthorized protest, but rejected the court’s decision as unjust.
The two Kachin youths said they were peacefully expressing the feelings of internally displaced persons (IDPs), not demonstrating against the government. They added that they saw their performance is a form of participation in the peace process.
“We described the hardships that we are facing. We are not guilty of anything, so we won’t pay the fine. Whatever they decide, we feel that we are not guilty,” Seng Nu Pan told her supporters at the court.
“Our performance was intended to push the peace process. And yet, the authorities punished us. I would like to ask the authorities what they think about when they see the IDPs. Do they understand them? Are they oppressing them?” defendant Paul Lu said, adding that they wouldn’t bow to unjust laws in Burma.
Police officer Min Thant Zaw pressed charges against Paul Lu and Seng Nu Pan at the Myitkyina township court on June 10.
The lawyer for the pair said he would continue to work for their release.
“I will try to get them released. I will discuss the sentence with their supporters and appeal the court’s decision, because my clients are not guilty,” said defense lawyer Mar Hkar.
Mar Kar said his clients and their supporters also believe that it is worth pursuing the case to fight for freedom of expression in the country.
“Freedom of expression is one of the most important basic principles of the democratic system. The authorities have tried to block it. A police officer charged them and a court sentenced them to serve time in prison. The situation is really bad,” he said.
“There is no freedom of expression in Burma. People have lost their right to freedom of expression. This is happening under a democratic government. I want to say the judicial system needs to be changed,” he added.
More than 120,000 people from over 360 villages have been displaced since the current conflict in Kachin State began. Clashes between the Burma Army and the KIA continue to force villagers to flee their homes for safety.