Myanmar/Burma — Two of Burma’s upper echelon have been charged with high treason on Friday. U Aye Maung, a member of Burmese Parliament, and Wai Hin Aung, an author, were charged by the Sittwe District Court.

On Jan. 17, thousands of Burmese were in the streets, protesting the government’s decision to ban the celebration of an ancient culture — the Arakan Kingdom. Many trace their heritage there, and they were upset when the government cancelled it. Protests ensued, and though the stories surrounding the events are unclear, the Burmese police ended up opening fire with live rounds, killing seven Buddhist protesters. Some have dubbed it the “Mrauk U Massacre.”

The initial stories by the police and the stories from protesters all seem to point in one direction: the people were angry, protested, things got out of hand, which was further exacerbated when the police started shooting live ammunition. In the days that followed, the Ministry of Home Affairs accused U Aye Maung and Wai Hin Aung of speaking out, inciting the protests in the first place. Maung is a prominent Arakan leader, a people that resides in Rakhine State, the same state that the Rohingya are currently fleeing, though they are not the same ethnic minority.

The two had spoken publicly before the events that transpired in Mrauk U, and the government statement accused Maung of saying that, “Bamar (the Burmese) people think of Rakhine people as slaves. There is no equal treatment. There are two ways to regain sovereignty. One way is with weapons and another is community-based politics.” However, these accusations by the courts are yet to be corroborated by other sources.

Maung and Aung’s high treason charges are reported to have broken the law that reads as such:

Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report … with intent to cause or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility…”

Any interpretation of these charges (which can be construed in a number of ways) can carry the death penalty. It can also mean a life sentence of hard labor. They were also charged with a lesser sentence that, on top of their other penalties, could warrant 2-3 years imprisonment along with a fine.

The Myanmar Times interviewed U Aye Maung, who said that “I’m talking about all ethnic people. I did not say that the Burmese are enslaving [us]. I meant that as there are rising tensions of armed conflict, all the ethnic groups seem to be like slaves under the Burmese. I meant to say it like that. We want self-governance and self-determination.” Local sources say that Maung is a key part of the community, and these charges could have serious impacts in the area.

The general secratary of the Arakan National Party added that, “I’ve worked with U Aye Maung for many years. Some of the words he said might be from his heart, but he didn’t do anything against the law. I guarantee that.”

Clad in ethnic Shan and Lisu traditional attire, newly-elected members of parliament from Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party gather as they visit Lower House of parliament Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. | AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo

U Aye Maung and Wai Hin Aung were charged with two primary offenses, and you can read them here:

Section 505(b) in the penal code.

17(1) from the Illegal Associations Act.



Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.