This week Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Burmese government to drop all charges against 13 activists who organized a September 21 peace day demonstration in Rangoon and Myitkyina.
The coordinated demonstrations in which more than 1,000 protesters participated in called for an end to the conflict in Kachin state were the biggest demonstrations to be seen in Burma since the 2007 Saffron revolution.
“The Burmese government will quickly lose its new reformist label if it acts like past military governments by arresting and prosecuting peaceful protesters,” said Phil Robertson HRW's deputy Asia director in press release sent out October 1st.
The charges leveled against the protest organizers stem from the fact they pressed ahead with the protest despite without having received the necessary permits they had applied for. Their requests for permission to organize the protest were all rejected in the weeks leading up to the planned event.
Following the demonstration Rangoon's Police chief Major Myint Htwe declared at a news conference that the organizers would be punished. “We are going to sue these people in 10 township police stations because they broke the law,” Major Myint Htwe said.
“We did not grant permission for those activities because they involved a lot of people who created disturbances and caused traffic jams," added the police chief.
According to Human Rights Watch on the evenings of September 19 and morning of September 20 Burmese authorities attempted but failed to arrest four of the march organizers at their homes in advance of the demonstration.
It remains unclear if the charges will be dropped as HRW and other groups have demanded. Burma's Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has yet to comment publicly on the case. Something that Kachin activists are said to be extremely disappointed by.
In June 2011 armed hostilities broke out between the Burmese government and the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) ending a 17-year-ceasefire between the two groups. Since the conflict began an estimated 85,000 to 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting which continues on a regular basis.