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A Myanmar court denied bail to human rights activist Khaing Myo Htun on Thursday. EarthRights International (ERI) condemns that decision and calls for all charges against him to be dropped.

“We are deeply disappointed by today’s decision, which appears to betray the court’s prejudice towards Khaing Myo Htun,” said Ka Hsaw Wa, Executive Director at ERI.

He was denied bail at a Sittwe court on the grounds that he had failed to turn up to two previous court hearings. Khain Myo Htun was travelling in the weeks prior to his arrest and never received the summons. The judge also highlighted concerns about the sensitivity of the case.

Khaing Myo Htun, a member of the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), prominent environmental activist, and former student at the EarthRights School for human rights and environmental activists, was arrested on 25 July on charges of sedition and incitement under Myanmar’s Penal Code Section 505(b) and (c).

The charges were filed after the ALP released an official statement implicating the Myanmar army in crimes against humanity and forced portering of civilians in Rakhine State. Khaing Myo Htun’s name was not on the statement, indicating that the charges against him are politically motivated due to his work in human rights and environmental activism.

ERI has reviewed the evidence supporting the allegations against the Myanmar army and has deemed them credible. Under Section 505(b) and (c), a crime has not been committed if there are reasonable grounds for believing the truth of the statement, and a lack of intent to induce the commission of offenses against the state. These provisions have frequently been used to silence human rights defenders.  

“The use of Section 505 (b) and (c), and the targeting of only Khaing Myo Htun, demonstrate a clear attempt to silence human rights advocacy and deter activists from exposing ongoing violations,” said Ka Hsaw Wa.  “The investigation that needs to happen is the one that looks into the allegations that the army has committed abuses against civilians in Rakhine State. We hope that the court will see that, dismiss the charges against Khaing Myo Htun, and investigate the abuses highlighted in the statement.”

Khaing Myo Htun will be required to appear in court for the next hearing on Friday 2 September.

“This type of thing should not happen under a democratic government.  We cannot revert back to the tactics used when our country was under military rule with the National League for Democracy (NLD) in government,” said Ka Hsaw Wa.