Myanmar Villagers Demand Release of Student Activist

Hundreds of villagers in northern Myanmar, also known as Burma, have staged protests to demand the release of a student activist who was involved in the brief abduction of two workers at a Chinese copper mine this year.

A monk in the Letpadaung area tells VOA that 500 to 600 locals staged peaceful protests in several villages Monday seeking the release of Phyu Hnin Htway, who was detained Saturday.  

Ye Yint Kyaw, fellow Student Union member, tells VOA that her friend is facing two criminal charges, including one for abduction.

“She just helped solving the problems of public as a responsible citizen and as a student. We all are helping the public,” said Ye. “The authorities always try to discredit our activities.”

It is not clear if formal charges have been filed yet.

The allegations stem from an incident in May in which a small group briefly abducted two Chinese workers from a nearby copper mine. Expansion of the Chinese-owned mine has drawn frequent protests from locals who say they were unfairly compensated for the land and are worried about the environmental impact.  

Five villagers were not charged after they turned themselves in following negotiations to free the Chinese workers. Phyu Hnin Htway and another student activist, who is still at large, left the area.

Thein Than Oo, a lawyer from nearby Mandalay, tells VOA the activists should not face legal penalties. 

“This girl from [the student union] just helped [the villagers],” said Thein. “The accused in fact are locals and since they have been released, there’s no basis to charge against her. She has not been put on trial and once she is put on trial we all will try to pursue this case, we cannot just sit aside.”

The mine is jointly run by Chinese and local companies under a deal that dates to the previous military government.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.

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