Myanmarese Mahidol graduate student sentenced to prison after joining anti-coup protest

Saw Lin Htet, an ethnic Karen student from Myanmar currently studying at Mahidol University, has been sentenced by a court in Kayin State to 2 years in prison with hard labour after he was arrested in Myanmar in March 2021.

Saw Lin Htet during an anti-coup protest

Saw Lin Htet is a student in the Human Rights and Democratisation master’s degree programme at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), Mahidol University. He previously returned to Myanmar to conduct research for his thesis. While there, he also joined anti-coup protests after the 1 February 2021 military coup.

On 23 March 2021, he was arrested while driving home in Hpa-An, the capital city of Karen State, with his 4-year-old daughter. He was stopped by military officers, who searched his car without presenting a warrant and arrested him after they found anti-government material.

He was charged with inciting violence against the state under Section 505 of Myanmar’s Criminal Code, which carries a prison sentence of up to 3 years, and was later charged with possessing an unregistered vehicle.

His arrest raised concerns as his family and friends were unable to contact him and were not told where he was being held. His classmates at Mahidol University then set up the “Free Saw Lin” campaign to raise concerns about his wellbeing and call attention to his arrest.

According to the campaign’s Facebook page, it has been difficult to get information about Saw Lin Htet’s trial due to the limited access to information from Myanmar. The page said he stood trial on 18 May 2021 on the charge of inciting violence.

In late November 2021, the Hpa-An Court sentenced him to 2 years in prison with hard labour on this charge. He was also previously sentenced to 2 months in prison for possession of an unregistered vehicle.

IHRP lecturer Bencharat Sae Chua said that she was told by other students from Myanmar that it depends on the authorities what labour he would be required to do, but that it could be anything from housekeeping to agriculture or building railways. However, Bencharat said she was told that if he is sent to prison in Mandalay, he would be required to work in a marble processing factory.

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