Hunger-striking activist Naw Ohn Hla to appeal sentence by month’s end – The Irrawaddy


RANGOON – The lawyer for jailed land-rights protestor Naw Ohn Hla says that his client hopes to appeal her two year jail sentence by the end of September.

“We are hopeful for an appeal hearing around September 25,” Robert San Aung, the jailed woman’s lawyer, told The Irrawaddy.

Robert San Aung said that Naw Ohn Hla, who was a political prisoner under Burma’s old army government, has been on hunger strike since her sentencing on August 29 for breaching Burma’s penal code.

“Her sentencing was unjust,” the lawyer added.

Naw Ohn La was arrested on August 13 while protesting near the Letpadaung copper mine, a long-controversial project run by China’s Wanbao and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL), a huge and secretive Burmese army conglomerate.

Work at the mine was held up as locals protested the confiscation of 7,000 acres of farmland around the mine. In November last year, police, firing incendiary devices, attacked a sit-in protest near Letpadaung and injured dozens of people.

An official inquiry was set up after the crackdown, headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Despite the controversy and violence around the mine, the inquiry commission recommended that mining be allowed go ahead. China is the biggest foreign investment source in Burma, though Letpadaung is one of several Chinese-backed projects that have generated controversy. The go-ahead for the mine was given while the building of US3.6bn Myitsone dam in Kachin state remains suspended, though Chinese officials are hopeful the dam can be restarted.

Work at the Letpaduang mine, which Wanbao has said could produce 100,000 tonnes of copper a year, is scheduled to resume by the end of September, less than a week after Naw Ohn Hla’s appeal, if the hearing goes ahead as her lawyer plans.

A revised revenue deal – announced after the Aung San Suu Kyi inquiry report was published – gives the Burma government 51 per cent of earnings from the mine with two per cent more to be used on ‘corporate social responsibility projects.’

Farmers affected by the mine have until September 30 to accept a revised compensation offer, but many continue to protest and say the proposed redress of US$1200-1500 per acre is not enough. Wanbao has paid over US$7million in compensation to villagers around Letpadaung since 2011, according to the Burma government, which has said that people displaced by the mine will be offered jobs at the project.

Naw Ohn Hla’s was not the first case of an anti-Letpadaung demonstrator being jailed. On 8 July Aung Soe, Maung San and Soe Thu were jailed – in Aung Soe’s case for 11 years – for protesting against the mine.

Naw Ohn Hla faces a separate trial for protesting without a permit, under a controversial 2011 law that allowed Burmese to protest but said that demonstrators taking to the streets without police permission could face a year in jail.

Neither the lawyer nor the woman’s family, who live in Rangoon, have been able to visit Naw Ohn Hla since the sentencing. “I have been busy with other cases and her family are very poor and cannot afford to travel all way to the prison,” Robert San Aung said. Keeping political prisoners locked-up in remote jails, often hundreds of miles from family, was a common practice under Burma’s military dictatorship.

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