A teenager on trial for ransacking a cement factory construction site during a protest in May in Mandalay region has said police wrongfully arrested him because they were unable to catch the real suspect, his father.
Protestors from Aung Tha Pyay village set fire to unfinished structures and vehicles and smashed windows as they vented their anger at the Myanmar Conch Cement company, which they accuse of stealing their land.
Maung Too Wai Yan, a 17-year-old school student, told reporters outside his court hearing in Patheingyi township last week that he was innocent, contradicting police who say he previously confessed and claim to have CCTV footage of him in a group smashing windows.
At least 17 protestors were injured along with several police officers as police fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
Maung Too Wai Yan, who was arrested along with three others on May 24, faces up to 10 years in prison under laws against causing grievous hurt to a public servant.
He has refused to apply for bail because that would require more hearings and he wants the trial to be over quickly.
Days before last week’s hearing, student protestors greeted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at Yangon University with placards demanding the teenager’s “immediate release” and declaring he was “unlawfully arrested.”
Suu Kyi told the protestors he would be released if he was innocent.
Last month another protester arrested during the riot, Tun Myint Win, died in custody at Mandalay’s O Bo prison. The man’s brother told Radio Free Asia at the time that he had been in good health before his arrest.
Villagers from Aung Tha Pyay Village have waged a fierce campaign since 2016 against the coal-powered Alpha Cement Factory, which they say will pollute their land and damage their crops.
Overall, seven have been convicted in relation to the protests while several others have been charged under various laws including the Peaceful Assembly Law. Dozens more have so far evaded arrest.
Early this month four people were sentenced to 14 months in prison for blocking a road leading to the factory and preventing construction vehicles from entering the site.
The factory is owned by a joint venture between the Myint Investment Group, a Myanmar company, and China’s Anhui Conch Cement.
The court last week decided that Maung Too Wai Yan would be tried as a juvenile, citing a new law passed earlier this month that changed the definition of a child from under 16 years of age to under 18.
“Since he is a child, this will be a delinquency case at a juvenile court,” said his lawyer, U Sithu.
He will be detained at a local youth training center from now on. His next court hearing is scheduled for August 2.