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Eight women’s rights activists were questioned yesterday in two separate legal cases in Matupi Township Court in Chin State for staging unauthorised public protests against sexual violence by the Burmese military.
In June, about 400 protesters in Rezua took part in a demonstration that was prompted by the alleged attempted rape of a 55-year-old woman by a Burmese army soldier from Light Infantry Battalion No. 269. In Matupi, roughly 200 people showed up for a similar protest.
Although event organisers had requested permission from local authorities to stage their demonstrations, they were rebuffed – but forged on anyway. Four activists in Matupi and four more in Rezua were then charged with the violation of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law.
According to a press release yesterday by the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), the trial for the four women from Rezua will continue on 22 July. The trial of two men and two women from Matupi is set to continue on 23 July.
Urging authorities to “immediately and unconditionally drop the charges against the activists”, CHRO reiterated its call for an impartial and independent international investigation into “serious human rights violations in Burma, including sexual violence, in order to deter further violations and help end the culture of impunity.”
CHRO has documented five cases of sexual violence perpetrated by the Burmese military in Chin State since the nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein came into power in 2011.
However, Cherry Zahau, a prominent Chin activist, said that these recorded instances are just the “tip of the iceberg”, and that the Burmese military is using sexual violence and rape against Chin women to assert power.
“So far, those perpetrators have not been brought into any court system and justice has not been done in the favour of the victims,” Cherry Zahau said. “Clearly, it is a power issue [to show] that the soldier can do whatever he wants to do in that village. That is the message they want to indicate.”
Cherry Zahau added that the way the Burmese military and the government have been dealing with these complaints indicates a lack of political will.
“If there is a functional government or a more democratic government, they should look at the cases and the problems the women are raising instead of arresting the people who are raising the concerns and their voices,” she said.
EDITOR”S NOTE: Several points have been updated or amended from the original text on 17 July.