September 26, 2014
Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe, a 23-year-old, member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) from Yadanabon University, Mandalay has been falsely implicated in the abduction of two Chinese workers from an army-backed copper mine project. On 20 September 2014, four months after the incident, she was arrested in her hometown under Penal Code Section 364 and 368. She is currently detained in Monywa Prison and awaiting trial in Yinmabin District Court. Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe has already attended two trials. Her lawyer has applied for bail on September 23, but it has not been granted.
On 18 May 2014, three workers, one Burmese worker and two Chinese workers of the Wanbao Mining Company’s Letpadaung Copper Mine Project, were illegally detained by the local people from Yinmabin Township. The workers had come to the village to survey the land, but the villagers, whose lands were seized for the project, abducted the workers; they were concerned that the government was ignoring them in favour of the Chinese company. The villagers immediately released the Burmese worker but intended to use their detention of the two Chinese workers to draw the government’s attention to their grievances. The following day, local authorities negotiated with the people granting them the right to use their land again and preventing the company from further fencing off sections of the area. The villagers set the two Chinese workers free, after the verbal agreement with the authorities.
While these events were taking place, Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe was at the home of a local family, tutoring their children. She was not involved in kidnapping the workers. According to local sources, she was only present in the area to volunteer help to local students and to provide support for the people who had lost their lands. Nevertheless, she has been accused of helping the villagers kidnap the workers. The members of the victim’s student union, among others, believe that membership in the union is one of the main reason she is being singled out by the government.
On 22 May 2014, the court charged seven people, including Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe, for the abduction. Five of the seven were arrested, charged, convicted, but then pardoned. There has been no attempt to arrest the other two, including Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe, at the time. Now that Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe has been arrested, only one of the seven remains at large.
Letpadaung Copper Mine Project is being operated by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Wanbao Mining Company, China. There are many nationwide objections to the project, because of the side-effects that impact the environment and livelihood of local people. Activists who were helping the local people in the Letpadaung area had been prosecuted with various offenses (see AHRC-STM-173-2013 and AHRC-STM-082-2013. The plaintiff of the case is an employee of the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited.
The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the politically motivated prosecution of a young student for crime that she has not committed. The AHRC urges the courts to act independently, consider the facts, dismiss the case, and release the girl immediately.