Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Imprisonment of two Burmese lawyers 'arbitrary': rights group

by Salai Pi Pi
24 November 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima)– A regional human rights body has condemned the Burmese military rulers for arbitrarily sentencing two lawyers, who were acting as defence counsels for political activists and called for their immediate release.

The Asia Human Right Commission (AHRC) during a consultation meeting concluded on Sunday called for the release of Burma's Supreme Court advocates Khin Maung Shein and Aung Thein, who addressed the complaints of their clients -- political activists arrested for anti-government protests last year -- to the court.

"The imprisonment of the two Supreme Court advocates in this case must be deemed arbitrary, and we the assembled jurists, lawyers and legal academics duly call for the immediate release of U Aung Thein and U Khin Maung Shein," AHRC said in a press release on Sunday.

A court in Rangoon's Hlaing Township on October 6, sentenced Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein to a prison term of four months on charges of contempt of Court after they submitted a complaint from their clients that states the defendant's desire not to cooperate with the court as they have lost faith in the judicial proceedings.

Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein, who have over 20 years experience as lawyers in Burma, were representing several defendants arrested in connection with the September 2007 protests and charged with criminal cases including three persons - Htun Htun Oo, Maung Maung Latt and Aung Kyaw Moe - and a woman, Htar Htar Thet, who were charged in five cases.

AHRC's Burma affairs spokesperson, Min Lwin, said Burma's judiciary system is being manipulated by the ruling junta and is used to intimidate political activists by awarding long prison terms while criminal cases could be eased off by bribing.

"The present judiciary system in Burma operates in the way were criminal cases could be defended by money but in terms of political cases, there is no mercy and the accused is awarded harsh penalty," said Min Lwin, who submitted to the AHRC's consultation meeting information on Burma.

The AHRC's criticism of the Burmese regime and call for the release of the sentenced advocates came during the Fourth Regional Consultation on an Asian Charter for the Rule of Law meeting attended by assembled jurists, lawyers and legal academics from throughout Asia in Hong Kong on 17 to 21 November.

"We express our grave concern at the state of the law in Burma, where, we have learned that criminal procedure has in many respects been completely abandoned such that parties to cases are denied their most basic rights and political interests and corrupt practices determine the outcome of trials," the AHRC said.

Burma's military rulers after having brutally suppressed protesters in August-September 2007, continued to crackdown on opposition activists by arresting them. And since July the regime began the trial of the detained activists and started handing down long prison terms of up to 68 years.

Prominent student leaders such as the '88 generation students' led by Min Ko Naing, were sentenced to 65 years in prison each while a prominent Monk U Gambira, who led the monks on to the streets in September 2007 was given 68 years in jail.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners- Burma, the junta during the past two months had already sentenced 189 dissidents including monks, members of Burma's opposition party – National League for Democracy - activists, students, lawyers, bloggers, poets, rights activists, a comedian and journalists for peacefully expressing their views.

Besides sentencing to lengthy prison terms, the government also transferred at least 60 activists to concentration camps in remote areas across Burma from Rangoon's Insein prison, a move that critics view as an act to distance them from their family members.

The AHRC, while calling for the immediate release of the two imprisoned advocates, deplored the junta's act and pledged that it will continue to pressure the military junta for free and open trials in Burma.

"The jurists, lawyers and legal academicians in AHRC pledged to mount pressure on the government in their respective countries to push the Burmese regime to refrain from consistence committing of human rights abuses and corrupt practice of the law," said Min Lwin.

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