Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Afro-Asian organization demands release of Burmese political prisoners

by Nam Davies
16 December 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A social consortium of Asian and African non-governmental organizations (NGOs) today collectively called for the release of all political prisoners in Burma, including democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization (AAPSO), comprising over 30 NGOs and social organizations from 28 countries, demanded the release of the Burmese prisoners of conscience on Tuesday, at the conclusion of their three day congress in India.

"The resolution was passed unanimously with no objection. Though China didn't give their nod to this resolution, they didn't object to it either," Kyaw Than of the All Burma Students League (ABSL) said. ABSL is party to the AAPSO under the moniker of the Burma Democracy and Peace Council.

According to the Burma resolution, the delegates condemned the junta's brutal suppression of protesters in September 2007's Saffron Revolution and protested against the handing down of harsh prison terms to detained, innocent peaceful demonstrators. They also agreed to strive for the realization of a comprehensive and substantial dialogue through the United Nations based on the result of the 1990 general election.

"We shall present the Burma resolution to the United Nations Security Council, probably in early January next year," Kyaw Than said.

The congress was held in Hyderabad in India at the Hotel Taj Decan for three days. The delegates focused discussion on oppression in Asian and African countries, including Burma, agreeing on the need for increased cooperation among members.

AAPSO, with national committees in over 90 countries from Asia and Africa, was founded on the basis of peace, equality, human rights, development, the fight against apartheid and the anti-colonial struggle.

The first congress of AAPSO was held at its head office in Cairo, Egypt, in 1957.

READ MORE---> Afro-Asian organization demands release of Burmese political prisoners...

Junta bans popular Buddhist monk's sermon

by Myint Maung
Tuesday, 16 December 2008 19:25

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Burmese military junta authorities in Rangoon Division have banned a sermon by abbot U Thumingla, organizers and friends said.

The ban order becomes effective when the sermon is to be held on December 18. Abbot U Thumingla became popular among religiously conscious Buddhists recently. The abbot is from Migadarwon monastery, Mandalay.

The abbot is 40 years old and has been into 20 years of monk hood. The organizers of the sermon preaching ceremonies and the monk community in Rangoon said that the authorities banned his sermons which were to be held soon in Minglataungnyunt, Mayangon and North Okkalapa Townships in Rangoon Division.

The sermons of U Thumingla entitled 'Sasana will diminish when the sermon preaching ceremonies diminish', 'be swallowed by earth fissures shortly,' 'Khat Tine Khan' and 'Need to know how to choose a good leader' are popular among the people.

U Thumingla is currently away from Mandalay and is now into sojourns in Hmawbi, Rangoon Division. His sermons are also banned in Mandalay, an abbot said when Mizzima contacted the Masoyane monastery in Mandalay over telephone.

In his 'Need to know how to choose a good leader' preached in Hlaingtharyar Township in August 2008, he told the audience that they should choose a good and reliable leader like Lord Buddha.

During this sermon the abbot said that now there were many Saturn like in ancient times. In the 'Khat Tine Khan' sermon, he said that some people wished the deadly cyclone hit them (the rulers) instead of the people. The abbot told his audience it was only because of their doing meritorious deeds which has protected them from suffering. When these good deeds are exhausted they will certainly face this sort of fate.

A local resident from Sanchaung Township also said that in 'Be swallowed by the earth fissure shortly', the abbot said that not only the higher authorities, even the lower level authorities like judges will be swallowed by earth fissures if they committed evil deeds by insulting the religion and monks. Insulting a single monk means insulting the entire order of the Sangha (monk). So I'd like to urge the 'State Sanghanaryaka Committee not to be passive in silence, the abbot preached in his sermon, the local resident said.

An official from the State Sanghamahanayaka Committee declined to say anything regarding the ban on the sermon preaching ceremonies of U Thumingla when Mizzima contacted his office over telephone.

The organizers of the religious ceremonies have to submit their applications to different levels of religious authorities from Ward, Township, and District level Sanghamahanayaka Committees in advance for their permission. They also have to sign a pledge not to include political matters in the religious sermons.

READ MORE---> Junta bans popular Buddhist monk's sermon...

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.

READ MORE---> Lawyer’s Testimony Highlights Distorted Justice...

Burma: Rohingya Stranded in Malaysia

By Sean Garcia
Refugees International

In late November, just before Thanksgiving, we visited a group of 30 Rohingya men in Penang, Malaysia. We were anxious to visit areas outside of Kuala Lumpur, where civil society is slowly improving services for Burmese refugees. We wanted to see whether refugees nationwide were receiving more attention.

Most of the men in the group we met have been living in Malaysia for over a decade. We were the first visitors that they had ever received from the international community. The group explained to us that they moved to Penang because there is more employment there than in other parts of Malaysia. However, unlike in Kuala Lumpur, where there are limited but growing services for Rohingya refugees, there are no schools or mobile health clinics that will attend to their needs. When asked if there are any civil society organizations in Penang that could help them, no one in the room could identify a single source of help.

Like most Burmese refugees in Malaysia, the greatest concern for everyone in the group was being arrested and deported to the Thai-Malaysia border. The group recounted the story of a recent immigration raid in the community that we visited, which took place three days earlier. In this raid, between 40 to 50 agents from “Rela”, a volunteer corps charged with arresting illegal migrants, combed through their neighborhood from 5pm to 6pm. They asked anyone they found on the street for identification, and six refugees ended up being detained. These raids are a regular part of life for Burmese refugees. The group said that raids happen a few times a year, with a previous one having taken place just six or seven weeks earlier.

Only a few people in the room had papers from the UN Refugee Agency, and the Rohingya we spoke with quickly agreed that they did not feel part of the larger Malaysian community that they lived in. Many of them expressed concerns that their Malaysian neighbors might contact “Rela” if they were disruptive in any way. All agreed that the ideal resolution to their problems would be a return to a safe and free Northern Rakhine State in Burma, but no one thought that was realistic in the near future. Similarly, they would all welcome the opportunity to stay legally in Malaysia, since they have already been living in the country for a long time. In the end, most of the men agreed that they would be happy to live anywhere that would allow them to live there legally, with the hope that they could someday live without fear.

READ MORE---> Burma: Rohingya Stranded in Malaysia...

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