Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lawyer’s Testimony Highlights Distorted Justice


1) Burma: Lawyer’s Testimony Highlights Distorted Justice
ASEAN Should Monitor Jailed Activists

(New York, December 16, 2008) (HRW)- Burma's military government has used the country's legal mechanisms to intimidate political prisoners and to deny them access to justice, Human Rights Watch said today, citing new testimony from a defense lawyer who has just fled the country. In a crackdown that started in October 2008, Burma's courts have sentenced over 200 political and labor activists, internet bloggers, journalists, and Buddhist monks and nuns to lengthy jail terms.

With the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Charter having entered into force on December 15, Human Rights Watch urged ASEAN to dispatch an eminent independent legal team to monitor the trials and conditions of activists held in isolated prisons.

"The government locks up peaceful activists, sends them to remote prisons, and then intimidates or imprisons the lawyers who try to represent them," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "This abuse of the legal system shows the sorry state of the rule of law in Burma."

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, a 28-year-old lawyer from Rangoon, fled to Thailand several days ago after weeks in hiding. In late October 2008, a Rangoon court sentenced him to six months in prison under Section 228 of the Burmese Penal Code for contempt of court. He failed to intervene, on the judge's order, after his clients turned their backs on the judge to protest the way they were being questioned.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min had been defending 11 clients, all members of the National League for Democracy (NLD). Three other lawyers - Nyi Nyi Htwe, U Aung Thein, and U Khin Maung Shein - were arrested and sentenced to terms of four to six months in prison on the same charges. Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min learned of the charges in advance and went underground.

He described to Human Rights Watch the secretive workings of the Burmese legal system and the way in which political prisoners are denied access to fair trials. He said political activists awaiting sentencing in prison can meet with their defense lawyers only at police custody centers with police and intelligence officers present. Trials are often shrouded in secrecy, with lawyers not informed when their clients are to appear in court. Lawyers representing political prisoners face arbitrary delays when requesting assistance from authorities or documents such as case files, he said.

Human Rights Watch has already documented problems with the current unfair trials, including lack of legal representation for political prisoners. Among the hundreds sentenced in recent months, in late November a Rangoon court sentenced prominent comedian and social activist Zargana to 59 years in jail for disbursing relief aid and talking to the international media about his frustrations in assisting victims of Burma's devastating Cyclone Nargis.

Many political prisoners have recently been transferred to isolated regional prisons where medical assistance is poor or nonexistent and food is scarce. During the past few weeks, authorities sent Zargana to Mytkyina Prison, in the far-north Kachin State; the '88 Generation Students leader, Min Ko Naing, was transferred to the northeast Kentung jail of Shan State; and internet blogger Nay Phone Latt, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for posting anti-government material on his website, was sent to the far-south prison at Kawthaung, across from Ranong in Thailand.

The newly-in-force ASEAN Charter sets out principles such as adhering to the rule of law and protecting and promoting human rights to which all members states, including Burma, should adhere. But compliance provisions are weak. ASEAN faces a considerable challenge in addressing Burma's lack of respect for human rights in the lead-up to multiparty elections in 2010.

Human Rights Watch urges Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan of ASEAN to dispatch an independent legal assessment team to monitor the treatment of political prisoners in Burma's courts and prisons. Human Rights Watch said ASEAN should also address Burma's lack of respect for the rule of law when it holds its rescheduled ASEAN summit meeting in early 2009.

"This is a test for ASEAN," said Pearson. "If ASEAN lets Burma get away with this farce of justice, the ASEAN Charter really is worthless."

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min's account to Human Rights Watch

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was admitted to the Burmese Bar earlier in 2008. Since 2007, he has played a lead role in trying to represent activists charged under a raft of spurious laws, and he has been arrested several times for his political activities.

On October 23, he and another lawyer were defending 11 clients, members of the NLD, in Hlaingtharya Court, Rangoon on a range of charges related to peaceful political activities in 2007. Some of the defendants turned their back on the judge, U Thaung Nyunt of the Rangoon Northern District Court, to protest the unfair way defendants were being questioned by the prosecution. The judge instructed the lawyers to stop the defendants' behavior. According to Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min: "We both said to the judge, ‘We don't want to forbid our clients from doing anything, because we are defense lawyers and we act according to our clients' instructions.' The judge stopped the proceedings and set another court hearing date."

The next day, court officials informed Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min that his contempt-of-court hearing was set for October 30. Days later, at the courthouse, he saw and overheard a police officer and an assistant judge conspiring to arrest him. He fled and went into hiding.

2) Fugitive lawyer defending political prisoners flees to Thai border

by Than Htike Oo
Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Young lawyer Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min who represented political prisoners fled to the Thai-Burma border in the wake of an arrest warrant against him.

He was on the run after the Rangoon Northern District Court sentenced him on October 30 to six months in prison in absentia for allegedly obstructing judicial proceedings.

"If I surrender to be arrested and imprisoned under this judicial system, it would be the end of me. I came here in the belief that something can be done," Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min (29) told Mizzima.

He was handed out a prison term for contempt of court while he was representing his clients Hlaingtharyar Township 'National League for Democracy' (NLD) member Ko Thant Zin Myo and 10 others who staged protest demonstrations against rising essential commodity prices.

The bench asked him to tell his clients not to show their back to the court. But he told the court that his clients could sit as they wished. He was given a prison term for that.

"I just said I had no authority to say anything to my clients for their behaviour. But the Hlaingtharyar Township judge from Rangoon northern district court prosecuted me for it," Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min said.

His co-lawyer in this case, Ko Nyi Nyi Htwe, was arrested and imprisoned on the same grounds. Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min didn't appear before the court which would have handed out a prison term to him on that very day.

His clients were sentenced to at least seven and-a-half years in prison.

He represented about 20 clients in political cases when he was in Burma.

Other lawyers who faced a similar fate are U Aung Thein and U Khin Maung Shein who were sentenced to four months in jail on the same contempt of court charge. They are now serving their prison terms in prisons far away from Rangoon.

Recent Posts from Burma Wants Freedom and Democracy

Recent posts from WHO is WHO in Burma


The Nuke Light of Myanmar Fan Box
The Nuke Light of Myanmar on Facebook
Promote your Page too