Tag Archives: Burma
Myanmar’s security forces have recently arbitrarily arrested at least six lawyers defending political prisoners, violating both the lawyers’ rights and those of their clients, Human Rights Watch said today. The arrests deprive defendants of their counsel of choice and the right to a fair trial and undermine the principle of the independence of the legal profession.
“The Myanmar junta’s wrongful arrest and prosecution of lawyers sends a chilling message that defending those arrested since the February 1 coup may lead to criminal prosecution,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal advisor. “Lawyers should be permitted to do their jobs without fear of arrest and intimidation.”
At least three of the lawyers have been arrested while attending court:
- On May 24, 2021, security forces arrested Thein Hlaing Tun, a lawyer defending the deposed Naypyitaw council head Dr. Myo Aung, after a court hearing in the case in Naypyitaw.
- On May 27, security forces arrested Ayar Linn Htut while she was defending a political prisoner at Hinthada District Court, in Ayeyarwady Region.
On June 2, security forces arrested Thet Tun Oo as he tried to attend a trial for one of his clients in Myitkyina. Thet Tun Oo is defending more than 120 political prisoners in Kachin State.
The authorities have arrested other lawyers at home, on the street, or as they sought to leave the country. Security forces beat and arrested May Zun Ko, a lawyer providing pro bono legal services for detainees, as she walked down the street in Mandalay on May 1. On June 10, security forces arrested Nilar and Hpone Myat Thu, part of the defense team for the deposed Kayin state chief minister, as they tried to leave the country after learning of outstanding warrants for their arrest.
Some of the lawyers have been charged with violating section 505A of the Penal Code, a new provision put in place by the junta that makes it a criminal offense to make comments that “cause fear,” spread “false news, [or] agitates directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a Government employee.” Violation of the section is punishable by up to three years in prison.
Targeting lawyers for their work defending political prisoners contravenes the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Human Rights Watch said. Under the Basic Principles, lawyers must be permitted to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference, and should not be subject to civil or criminal penalties for good faith statements made in defense of their clients.
The clients of the arbitrarily arrested lawyers who themselves are in custody are being denied their right to be represented by counsel of their choice and to have a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said.
Lawyers in Myanmar say situation becoming ‘very VERY difficult’ as regime steps up arrests and harassment.
As Myanmar’s military struggles to consolidate its control over a country in revolt, it has increasingly targeted a different type of resistance: lawyers defending political prisoners. In the past month, at least five lawyers have been arrested across Myanmar for defending politicians and activists, an escalation of the military’s assault on the judicial system.
First, in late May, police arrested Thein Hlaing Tun, the lawyer for deposed Naypyidaw Council chairman Myo Aung, a co-defendant of Aung San Suu Kyi. The former elected leader of Myanmar was overthrown by army chief Min Aung Hlaing in a military coup on February 1 after her National League for Democracy party won November’s election in a landslide.
Since the coup, the military regime has killed some 883 civilian protesters and arrested, charged or sentenced more than 6,000 opponents according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been monitoring the situation.
Thein Hlaing Tun and five other lawyers were with their clients on May 24 when he was arrested and charged under section 505A, an incitement charge that carries a three-year prison sentence and has emerged as the favourite tool of the generals. Khin Maung Zaw, the head of Aung San Suu Kyi’s defence team, said Myo Aung was not informed of the arrest until he met the other lawyers on June 7.
“Then he appointed new lawyers among us,” Khin Maung Zaw said in a text message. “We’re worried about other lawyers,” he told Al Jazeera, saying the situation has become “very VERY difficult” due to the danger of “being harassed or arrested” and internal disagreements about how to proceed in a skewed legal system.
Soon after, on May 28, a lawyer from Ayeyarwady Region was arrested during a trial while defending a political dissident. According to local media, she had taken on a few high-profile clients, including the superintendent of a hospital who had gone on strike rather than work under the military regime. She too was charged under section 505A.
The Observatory has received information about a wave of arbitrary arrests targeting lawyers in Myanmar. According to the information received, between May 24 and June 10, 2021, the military junta’s security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained five lawyers who provided legal defense to protesters and other individuals arrested following the February 1 coup d’état. Four of the five lawyers have been charged with “incitement”, under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code .
On June 10, 2021, Nilar and Hpone Myat Thu, were arrested in the border town of Myawaddy, Kayin [Karen] State, while they were attempting to cross into Thailand. They appeared in court a day after their arrest and, at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, were being held at Myawaddy’s central police station. The next hearing in their case is scheduled for June 25, 2021. The “incitement” charges against the two stem from their defense of political prisoners, including Kayin State’s ousted Chief Minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint and Hpa-An Technical High School Principal Cho Yu Mon, who were arrested after the February 1 coup for taking part in peaceful anti-junta protests.
On June 2, 2021, Thet Htun Oo, a pro-bono lawyer and Central Executive Committee member of the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar, was arrested while in court inside Myitkyina Prison, Kachin State, where he was assisting individuals who had been detained under Article 505(a). The charges against him are not known at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.
In the evening of May 27, 2021, Ayeyar Lin Htut was abducted from Hinthada District Court by SAC Terrorist Group  and charged with incitement under Article 505(a). At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, she was being held in Hinthada Prison in Ayeyarwady [Irrawaddy] Region. Ayeyar Lin Htut was representing political prisoners arrested following the coup.
On May 24, 2021, Thein Hlaing Tun, who represented ousted Naypyidaw Mayor Myo Aung, was arrested while he tried to meet with his client at a special court in Naypyidaw. Thein Hlaing Tun was charged under Article 505(a).
The Observatory condemns the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of lawyers, which is inconsistent with international human rights standards, including the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers,  which guarantee the protection of lawyers in the course of their work and prohibit their prosecution in relation to cases they defend. The Observatory expresses grave concern over the high risk of torture, enforced disappearance, and summary execution the five lawyers are facing while in custody. The Observatory remains concerned by the ongoing actions by the military junta to curtail fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and to a fair trial.
The arrests were the latest in recent weeks targeting lawyers representing political prisoners
Two lawyers from Kayin State were arrested in the border town of Myawaddy on Thursday, in the latest case of legal defenders of political detainees being targeted by the regime.
Nilar and Hpone Myat Thu were near the gate to the border crossing to Thailand when they were arrested and charged with incitement under Section 505a of the Penal Code, according to family members.
“At the moment, all we know is that they’ve been charged under 505a, but we don’t know the details,” said a relative of Nilar who spoke to Myanmar Now on condition of anonymity.
The two had been involved in defending a number of political prisoners, including Kayin State’s ousted chief minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint and Cho Yu Mon, the principal of Hpa-An Technical High School, who was arrested days after the February 1 coup for taking part in anti-regime protests.
They appeared in court a day after their arrest and are currently being held at Myawaddy’s central police station. Their next hearing is scheduled for June 25.
Since late May, the junta has arrested at least three lawyers providing legal defence for protesters and others detained since the coup.
On May 24, it arrested Thein Hlaing Tun, a lawyer for ousted Naypyitaw mayor Myo Aung.
He was taken into custody following a special hearing for Myo Aung and two other deposed political leaders—President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Three days later, Ayeyar Lin Htut, a lawyer from Hinthada District in Ayewarwaddy Region who has helping people facing political charges, was arrested and charged with incitement.
Thet Htun Oo, a lawyer from Kachin State, was arrested while in court on June 2.
Other lawyers say that they have also faced pressure from the regime for offering legal counsel to those arrested for a variety of political offences.
Junta police detained a pro-bono lawyer working for political activists in Kachin State’s capital Myitkyina on Wednesday.
U Thet Tun Oo had been voluntarily helping civilians detained and charged by the military regime under Article 505 (a) of the Penal Code for incitement.
The lawyer was detained at a court hearing inside Myitkyina Prison.
“He was waiting for another case at the prison court when the police took him away for ‘questioning’. We have lost contact with him since,” said one of his colleagues.
The lawyer is reportedly being held at Myitkyina’s police station and is not allowed to meet his relatives.
“We don’t yet know if he will be charged. Some say he will be charged with incitement. He has not committed any crime and he was only helping those charged under 505,” said the colleague.
U Thet Tun Oo, who is also a central executive committee member of the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar, has reportedly been acting for free for over 120 detainees since the coup, including National League for Democracy Kachin State ministers, and protesters and reporters detained while covering protests in Myitkyina and Waingmaw townships.
Pro-bono lawyers acting for protesters said they have been threatened and pressured by the regime.
“We have been threatened and asked by the military council if we oppose it because we are acting for those who defy the military. From a legal perspective, we are impartial,” said another Kachin pro-bono lawyer.
Lawyers said they are not allowed to meet their clients in private or talk freely to the media about the trials.
A Yangon-based lawyer acting for those charged under Article 505(a) said: “There is heavy pressure. I received a death threat over the phone last month.
For the first time since Myanmar’s military locked her up in a pre-dawn raid as part of its coup on Feb. 1, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s ousted civilian government, was seen in person on Monday when she sat briefly at a court hearing.
The short appearance at a special court in Naypyidaw, the Southeast Asian country’s capital, was also the first time that most of her legal team had caught a glimpse of their famous client. They have been defending her against a raft of criminal charges that the United Nations and foreign governments say are clearly politically motivated. Many of the country’s elected leaders have been jailed.
More than 800 people have been killed by security forces since the coup, according to a monitoring group, many shot in the head while peacefully protesting. More than 4,200 have been detained.
Among them is U Thein Hlaing Tun, a lawyer representing another of Myanmar’s jailed elected leaders. He was arrested on Monday as he tried to meet with his client at the same special court in Naypyidaw where Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi appeared.
Mr. Thein Hlaing Tun was charged with violating a section of the penal code criminalizing perceived slights against the Tatmadaw.
“That’s all we know about his arrest,” Ms. Min Min Soe said.
Lawyers that offer to represent protesters detained by the junta are themselves facing abduction and arrest.
In broad daylight, Daw My Zun Ko, a female lawyer providing free services for young abductees in Myanmar, was beaten and abducted in Mandalay. For Myanmar’s legal community, such arbitrary arrests are something they must reckon with on a daily basis.
“Even before the coup, we have been working to ensure that the basic legal rights of every person are respected in case of an arrest or judicial accusation. This has become even more challenging in recent times,” says Miriam Chinnappa, who heads a large-scale criminal justice program implemented by International Bridges of Justice (IBJ) in Myanmar.
Since 2013, IBJ has pioneered efforts to secure legal aid in this country, by training hundreds of lawyers, providing early legal representation, and raising rights awareness among the people. Presently, it is one of the few international organizations remaining in Myanmar, and its lawyers continue to engage with the criminal justice system to open entry points for people to access justice.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the number of people arrested, charged, or sentenced in Myanmar since the military coup of February 1 now totals 4,120, in addition to 802 who were killed by the junta.
Delivering legal representation to those arrested has become more complicated, however, with the recent amendment of the legal aid law. The amendment puts restrictions on people who are eligible for legal aid, clamps down on early access to people arrested, and curtails the powers of the legal aid boards.
In Mandalay, the military tried to get a warrant issued for lawyers who stood up to help the protesters. At first the request was rejected by judges, who argued that lawyers cannot be charged for doing their work. Unfortunately, it turned out to be only a temporary respite: the lawyers were later charged on other grounds, so they went into hiding.
“Whether I am at risk now, I never can be sure,” Myint Myat explains. “Sometimes there are stories circulating about a lawyer having an issued warrant, so to avoid being arrested, another lawyer takes his case.”
Since the coup, the military junta has removed basic protections, including the right to be free from arbitrary detentions, and created new offenses to target people criticizing the coup and encouraging others to support the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). It has also amended the law to prevent the free flow of information and punish those disseminating information that does not present the junta in the most favorable light.