Chinese Firm in Burma Drops Kidnapping Charges Against Student Activist Phyu Hnin Htwe (10/2014)


RANGOON — Chinese mining firm Wanbao has dropped charges against 20-year-old Phyu Hnin Htwe, an activist accused of involvement in the kidnapping of two contractors working on the company’s Letpadaung copper mine site in late May.

Phyu Hnin Htwe, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), was released from police custody in Monywa on Wednesday, where she had been in custody since Sept. 13.

The company’s project coordinator, Hla Sein, told the court that the charges were being dropped for the sake of maintaining good relations between Burma and China, according to ABFSU spokesperson Ye Yint Kyaw. The Yinmabin district-level court has not yet disclosed official documents detailing the reasons for acquittal.

Many believe that Phyu Hnin Htwe was innocent, and that she had been targeted for her work as an activist and hit with egregious charges that could have landed her in jail for up to 10 years.

Phyu Hnin Htwe faced charges under articles 364 and 368 of Burma’s Penal Code, which include kidnapping with intent to murder.

“She was charged with unjust articles,” said Ye Yint Kyaw, “and now she has won in accordance with real Dhamma.”

Yinmabin is one of several townships where communities have been adversely affected by the Letpadaung copper mine project, a joint venture between China’s Wanbao Mining Co. and Burma’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL). Wanbao has been granted huge swathes of farmland by the government, but thousands of farmers claim they have either not been adequately compensated or have not given free, prior and informed consent for land transfer.

The project has been unpopular among the wider Burmese public, with activists from across the country coming out in support of the affected communities, particularly after an anti-mine protest site was brutally dismantled by police in November 2012.

On May 18, 2014, a group of local people from Yinmabin abducted two Chinese Wanbao contractors and their Burmese driver after they were seen surveying grazing lands used by farmers. Fearing that the company was planning to fence off and seize the land, the villagers captured the employees.

The driver was soon released and the Chinese captives were taken to Hse Te village and held captive for more than 24 hours. They were released on May 19 and suffered no bodily harm.

In late May, the company announced that it would press charges against seven individuals for their alleged involvement in the incident, including Phyu Hnin Htwe, who is a second-year student at Mandalay’s Yadanabon University and sometimes volunteers as a teacher in villages near the controversial mining site.

Five of the accused were arrested and later pardoned, while Phyu Hnin Htwe and local villager Win Kyaw refused to appear in court. Police apprehended Phyu Hnin Htwe at her home in Patheingyi, Mandalay Division, on Sept. 13. Win Kyaw remains at large.

The arrest of the young activist immediately sparked protests, with dozens of her fellow ABFSU members rallying for her release.

“She said she thanks civil society, political parties, local citizens, and her mother organization, the ABSFU,” said Ye Yint Kyaw. “She said she will keep working for the people.”