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Burmese Court Jails Liberty and Leadership Program Scholar for Freedom of Speech

Burmese activist and 2016 graduate of the George W. Bush Institute Liberty and Leadership Program Lum Zawng was released from jail last week for his role in a December 2018 peaceful protest.

Article by Jieun Pyun April 30, 2019 //   4 minute read

Update: 

On Friday, April 26, Burmese activist and 2016 graduate of the George W. Bush Institute Liberty and Leadership Program Lum Zawng was one of nearly 7,000 pardoned and released from prison. He was convicted in late December for defaming the military during a peaceful protest. Lum Zawng is in good health and continues to advocate for Burma's democracy.

Under Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, 44 journalists and 142 activists have faced trial in the country. If Burma is still serious about democratization, the country must stop persecuting its citizens and people for expressing their views and respect freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. Young leaders like Lum Zawng are Burma’s greatest hope for strengthening democracy. Instead of jailing them, the country should engage its people to inform the peace-building process and encourage them to raise their voices.


Original Dec. 11, 2018 post: 

My friend Lum Zawng, a Burmese political activist and 2016 graduate of the George W. Bush Institute’s Liberty and Leadership Program, was jailed last week for his role in a peaceful protest. His crime? Stating simple facts about the military preventing innocent citizens from escaping a conflict zone. 

A court in Kachin State, Burma called his protests a “defamation of the military” and sentenced him and two other civil society activists to six months in prison and a fine of about $300 USD—the country’s minimum wage is a little over $3 USD per day. 

In April, Lum Zawng and his colleagues organized a series of peaceful anti-war protests in response to an escalation of violence between government and ethnic-armed forces described as the most intense in decades. Many Kachin residents, who are mostly Christians living near Burma’s resource-rich northern border, were killed or displaced and the International Committee of the Red Cross has indicated the military is blocking relief supplies. 

The U.S. Embassy in Burma has urged Burmese officials to reconsider the court’s decision saying, “In a democracy, this is the kind of activity that should be praised, not prosecuted.” This verdict is another example of the government’s increasing contempt for freedom of expression. 

Since 2016, 44 journalists and 142 activists have faced trial in the country. Earlier this year, two Burmese Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven-year prison terms for investigating the military’s actions against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group. In October, three journalists were arrested after reporting critically on the financial management of the Yangon municipal budget.    

If Burma is still serious about democratization, the country must stop persecuting people for expressing their views and respect freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. Young Leaders like Lum Zawng are Burma’s greatest hope for strengthening democracy. Instead of jailing them, the country should engage its people to inform the peace-building process and encourage them to raise their voices.