Bawk Ja (also spelt Bauk Gyar and Bauk Ja), a Kachin land rights activist and the National Democratic Force's (NDF) Kachin state chief was freed at noon today from Hpakant prison where she had been detained since her arrest on July 18th of last year, according to Dai Tse, NDF general secretary for Hpakant township.
According to Dai Tse, Bawk Ja was freed today by authorities after she was brought to the Hpakant court for a hearing. Dai Tse confirmed that Bawk Ja was not freed by presidential amnesty.
In an interview with DVB conducted yesterday before her release, Bawk Ja claimed that the charges were politically motivated. “The charges against me were deliberately framed because I sued former general Ohn Myint for vote-rigging in the elections – as a former military commander in the region, he has influence over local authorities,” Bauk Ja said. Bauk Ja challenged her opponents victory, which was secured after 13,255 votes were declared invalid.
Bawk Ja was charged under Section 304(a) of the Penal Code, causing death by negligence these charges were dropped last week however. She still appears to be facing two counts under the Medical Council Act: Section 41, for possession of medical equipment not registered with the Medical Council and another charge under Section 33 for illegal possession of medicine.
Bawk Ja first rose to national prominence five years ago, as a leading member of a group of 150 farming families who sued the Yuzana corporation and its chairman Htay Myint (now an MP from the ruling USDP) for expropriating their land in the fertile Hugawng Valley (also spelled Hukawng or Hukaung).
Ultimately court action against Yuzana failed. Bawk Ja briefly went underground in January 2011 after Northern Regional Command, Brig-Gen Zeyar Aung issued an arrest warrant against her in an apparent attempt to stymie her efforts to seek redress for the farmers. The bravery she showed in repeatedly standing up to Burma's central government despite repeated intimidation has won Bawk Ja many fans across the country and around the world.
Bawk Ja traveled to the US in February 2012 at the invitation of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US-government funded democracy promotion group. During her visit she met with then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Bawk Ja also registered as an NDF candidate to run during the 2012 round of by-elections. Ultimately she was denied a chance to contest when polling for the three seats up for grabs in Kachin state was called off, obstinately for security reasons.
She previously ran as an NDF candidate in the November 2010 election. While many people expected her to win a seat at the time, Bawk Ja lost to Ohn Myint a candidate from the military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) after 13,255 votes were controversially declared invalid.
Bawk Ja, initially challenged the final vote count in the Hpakant consistency, which gave the USDP candidate Ohn Myint 29,426 vote to her total of 21,633. In June 2011, Bawk Ja dropped her challenge after Ohn Myint resigned his lower house seat to become the union Minister for Cooperatives. Ohn Myint, who served as Northern Regional Commander in the Burmese army was instrumental in assisting Yuzana seize land in the Hukaung valley and considered close to the firm's owner.
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