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1 Dec 2021

Worker Rights Consortium

Myanmar: 5,000 political prisoners released from Insein prison, including union leader Daw Myo Myo Aye & Xing Jia factory workers

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"Daw Myo Myo Aye, leader of the STUM Union, is released from prison, but the threat to trade unionists and workers in Myanmar remains high", 1 December 2021

After six months of detainment in Myanmar’s notorious, Covid-ridden Insein prison, Daw Myo Myo Aye, leader of the Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar, was released and reunited with her family along with 5,000 other political prisoners on October 21, 2021. Among those released alongside Myo Myo were three workers from Xing Jia Footwear, whose only “crime” was joining a small gathering on March 15, 2021 in front of their factory asking to receive payment for work they had already completed. At the factory, the peaceful workers faced a brutal crackdown by the military and police, who shot and killed three innocent people, and arrested seventeen people. While fourteen of them were released shortly after, the remaining three were baselessly sentenced to three years of imprisonment.

Despite the release of Daw Myo Myo Aye and the workers from Xing Jia Footwear, Burmese trade unionists and workers from the garment sector continue to be severely persecuted by the military junta and face extrajudicial punishment for labor organizing. Over recent months, the WRC has received reports of arrests of local union leaders at several factories, including the arrest of a union member at Sioen Myanmar on August 24, the October 17 arrest and detention without bail of a worker from Pou Chen Myanmar, who was imprisoned on the grounds of a retaliatory case predating the coup filed by their employer, and the October 29 convictions of Thwin Aung, the local union president at Gasan Apparel (formerly Myanmode), who was sentenced to three years in prison for taking part in anti-coup protests in February. Days after the union leader was imprisoned, Gasan Apparel reneged on its collective agreement with the workers, reducing workers’ wages from 5100 Kyat (US$ 2.9) per day to 4800 Kyat (US$ 2.7). When workers protested the company’s unilateral reduction of their wages on November 5, Gasan Apparel called the military to intimidate workers. Furthermore, release from prison is no guarantee of sustained freedom. Days after the announced release of the prisoners, media reported that at least 100 of the released prisoners had already been rearrested...

Due to her organizing, Daw Myo Myo Aye faced arbitrary and retaliatory court proceedings even prior to the coup. She drew attention for organizing workers in Honeys Holdings’ two factories, which are located in Yangon, Myanmar...

In 2017, Honeys targeted the STUM leader in retaliation for assisting employees in exercising their right to freedom of association, filing a civil and then a criminal case against her on the grounds of defamation. Daw Myo Myo Aye appeared in court on upwards of forty occasions in order to respond to the charges filed by Honeys Holdings prior to her arrest this year. Despite strong recommendations from the WRC to withdraw the lawsuits, Honeys has so far persisted with its persecution of Daw Myo Myo Aye.

Just weeks after her release, Myo Myo was called back to the courts regarding the complaint filed by Honeys Holdings. On November 9, 2021, the Criminal Court dismissed Honeys Holdings’ criminal defamation case against Daw Myo Myo Aye, on the grounds that the employer failed to appear. However, Honeys Holdings’ civil case against her is ongoing, with the next hearing scheduled for December 8. The fact that Honeys Holdings continues to maintain its case against Daw Myo Myo Aye puts the STUM leader at a heightened risk of being rearrested and imprisoned in a similar manner as the Pou Chen worker, who suddenly saw their case resurrected and used to justify their detainment.

Part of the following timelines

Myanmar: Three killed & 17 arrested at footwear factory after workers & family members demand unpaid wages

Myanmar: Arrests of local union leaders reported at several factories, incl. Pou Chen Myanmar; incl. co. response