Thousands protest against jailing of Myanmar anti-war activists

Demonstrators march in support of three jailed local activists during a rally in Myitkyina, capital of restive Kachin state, on Dec 11, 2018.
Demonstrators march in support of three jailed local activists during a rally in Myitkyina, capital of restive Kachin state, on Dec 11, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

MYITKYINA, MYANMAR (AFP) - Thousands of protesters on Tuesday (Dec 11) took to the streets in northern Myanmar over the jailing of three anti-war activists in a rare public display of anger.

Lum Zawng, Nang Pu and Zau Jet were sentenced last Friday (Dec 7) to six months in prison and fined about US$320 (S$440) each for defaming the military after helping to organise a demonstration in Kachin state's capital Myitkyina in April.

They were highlighting the plight of thousands of civilians trapped by the fighting between the military and ethnic Kachin insurgents in one of the world's longest-running civil wars.

On Tuesday, demonstrators - many with faces painted in Kachin's red and green colours - held banners aloft and chanted slogans against the activists' imprisonment and the judiciary.

"We demand the authorities release our people immediately," protest leader Naw Aung told AFP after the march, which wound its way to the city's main stadium.

The organisers said some 4,000 people took part in the demonstration, including many languishing in around 30 displacement camps around the city.

Police gave AFP a more conservative estimate of 1,700 participants, but acknowledged that more people joined later.

The European Union and rights groups have urged Myanmar's government to quash the convictions and release all three activists.

Rebels have clashed with the powerful military for more than six decades in the restive state over autonomy, ethnic identity, drugs, jade and other natural resources.

Fighting surged dramatically this year, forcing thousands to flee to camps in remote parts of the state with inadequate access to aid.

More than 106,000 people are still living in camps across Kachin and Shan states, their plight recently overshadowed by the separate Rohingya crisis in western Rakhine state.