Land Rights Activist Bawk Ja Goes On Trial in Hpakant


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bawk Ja Lum Nyoi, a land rights activist and head of the National Democratic Force (NDF) party’s Kachin State branch who was arrested July 18, was again brought into the Hpakant court to face her charges. She was taken to the Hpakant court several times after being arrested and charged with three penal codes. The Hpakant police have filed a law suit against Bawk Ja on three charges that include section 304 (A) for causing death by negligence, section 33 for acts of omission, and section 41 special law for giving medical treatment without a medical practitioner licence.

During the course of proceedings, the Hpakant court has summoned a long list of witnesses for the prosecution. This includes a lot of government personnel who have been transferred elsewhere in the country. Most witnesses did not show up in this week’s trial.

The NDF party said her charges were politically motivated and issued a statement for her release. The party had arranged for two political lawyers to defend her – U Myint Thwin from Mandalay and U Aye Myint from Bago. NDF party leader U Khin Maung Swe is a staunch supporter of Bawk Ja in her trials, said one of her political colleagues.

After three months in detention, a final court verdict is expected to come in a few weeks.

Bawk Ja led a group of farmers, whose lands had been confiscated, and sued Yuzana Company and its chairman MP U Htay Myint over illegal land grabbing in Hugaung valley in October 2010. She had fought valiantly in and out of court against the Yuzana Company. A warrant for her arrest was issued by former northern military commander Brig. Gen. Zeyar Aung in January 2010. Bawk Ja managed to escape from several attempts to arrest her by military intelligence units under former military junta.

Human rights lawyer Aung Htoo said in a statement issued by Legal Aid Network, “The authorities have created threat to grassroots people, by detaining Bawk Ja Lum Nyoi, such a notable person of human rights activist, illegally and without justice. This is also to prohibit responsive actions of Bawk Jar and other local farmers whose farm land, constituted a part of over 220,000 acres, which is situated in Hu Gong valley in Kachin State, and which were illegally confiscated by Yuzana Company, owned by U Htay Myint, a high-ranking crony of the regime, led by President Thein Sein.” The statement also said, “It also indicates that the ruling regime will proceed the process and also step forward for confiscating and exploiting more lands, owned by local farmers and people in Kachin State, illegally and unjustly.”

In 2010 by-election, she competed against former northern military commander U Ohn Myint in Hpakant constituency for a seat in parliament. Burma’s Union Election Commission announced U Ohn Myint as the winner despite allegations of fraud and voting irregularities. Many Hpakant residents said they voted for Bawk Ja and thought that she would win the Hpakant seat.

In January 2011, Bawk Ja submitted an official complaint letter to Union Election Commission, claiming she was a winner and demanding an investigation into the alleged vote fraud.

Her political colleagues believe that U Ohn Myint was the person who dug up the present charges for incidents in late 2010 and tried to have Bawk Ja arrested. One colleague said, “You know she had to flee and ended up in Yangon. Later she came to terms with U Ohn Myint and withdrew her case against him. Just before her present arrest she had met him in Naypyitaw and he had promised her to help with a livestock farm in Kachin state. He said he would provide beef cattle on credit. When she got arrested, U Ohn Myint said he would make sure she is not convicted and jailed. But Yuzana’s Htay Myint is an even bigger villain. His massive land grabs led to all this. When Daw Bawk Ja threatened to demonstrate in front of his Yangon head office, he assented to return some land and proposed various deals to Daw Bawk Ja. NDF deputy chairman U Soe Win is the go-between. But it’s merely a matter of trying to placate people with pennies. Lots of people are still in trouble.”

He added: ”Daw Bawk Ja has been under surveillance by authorities – being in Laiza for months, and then her recent trip to Serbia. They wanted to keep her under wraps at least for some time. The family of the deceased is not pressing charges. For the charges of possession of medical equipment and medicines, Daw Bawk Ja tried hard to get her sister-in-law who is a nurse to appear as a witness. But that woman is not cooperating. If Daw Bawk Ja is lucky, the charges could be dismissed because of lack of evidence.“

In February 2012, Bawk Ja together with Khin Than Myint of NLD and famous comedian Zarganar visited the US as guests of the National Endowment for Democracy and met with then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In June 2013, she and 9 lawyers spent 2 weeks in Belgrade, Serbia, to study issues related to human rights and rule of law. The visit was organized by Civil Rights Defenders, in support of legal work in Myanmar.