By Aung Hla Tun, YANGON, Reuters
Leading Myanmar activists arrested in a crackdown by ruling generals on a rare series of protests are in the infamous Insein prison, suggesting they may indeed be tried and face 20 years in jail, a relative said on Sunday.
“When they were last arrested on September 27, the regime made the same allegations against them, but they were kept at a high security police compound till they were released in January,” the relative said.
“We are wondering if the regime will really charge them this time because they were moved to Insein Central Prison” on the outskirts of Yangon, where many political prisoners have been held in what they later described as harsh conditions.
The relative said the 13 activists, arrested in midnight raids last week, were moved swiftly to Insein as official newspapers accused them of “harming the stability of the state” after they led a protest against huge fuel price rises.
The newspapers, in unusually quick reporting of dissident arrests, said they would be charged under an internal security law that carries jail terms of up to 20 years.
But there were still doubts whether the 13 — influential figures behind a 1988 student uprising that the military suppressed ruthlessly at a cost of up to 3,000 lives and who have already spent many years in jail — would be tried.
“Moving there does not always mean that the accused will be charged,” said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and a lawyer.
The 13 include Min Ko Naing, a Burmese nom de guerre meaning “Conqueror of Kings”, the most influential opposition activist after detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and who has already spent 15 years behind bars.
On Saturday, another prominent dissident, Htin Kyaw, already detained three times this year for demonstrating against falling living standards in the former Burma, was arrested in Yangon after a manhunt.
Police and pro-junta gangs from the feared Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) stopped cars and checked bus, railway and ferry terminals across the former capital in one of the harshest crackdowns in years.
They checked identity papers against photographs of Htin Kyaw and Htay Kywe, a still influential leader of the 1988 student-led uprising who remains at large.
Htin Kyaw shouted anti-junta slogans with another man, identified as Zaw Nyunt, as they were dragged away by men in civilian clothes, witnesses said.
“They must be the plainclothes police and the UDSA thugs. I saw some of them slapping and punching Htin Kyaw when he kept shouting slogans,” one said.