A vindictive junta is further undermining rule of law by cracking down on lawyers who represent victims of political persecution. Some of them now face the prospect of lengthy prison terms just for doing their jobs.
Yangon lawyer Ko Tun Tun Win* never thought he’d be at risk of arrest because of his career, but that changed after the coup when he began taking on pro bono work for arrested activists.
“I only know how to be a lawyer, that’s why I chose to work for free on behalf of detained activists,” said Tun Tun Win, who is in his mid-30s and has been practising for 15 years. “I’ve been successful in my career and my parents are proud of my work as a lawyer,” he told Frontier on August 11.
The relentless persecution of activists and ordinary citizens who oppose the coup has coincided with a stream of arrests of the people who try to defend them in what passes for a legal system under the junta.
Lawyers such as Tun Tun Win now live in fear of being arrested by the military at all times.
“My family and I feel insecure. I have to be prepared to be arrested by the military,” he said. “Sometimes I see police trucks near my home and I think they are coming to arrest me.”
The arrests of lawyers began in April 2021, just two months after the coup, generally targeting those defending protest leaders or members of the ousted National League for Democracy government.
“The military made these arrests on purpose. They want to create fear among lawyers who are defending political prisoners,” said Mandalay-based lawyer Ko Myint Tun*.
Lawyers defending detained activists and politicians are usually charged with incitement under section 505A of the Penal Code, for which the maximum penalty is three years’ imprisonment. The charge has emerged as the junta’s preferred catch-all form of legal persecution since the coup. Radio Free Asia reported that 27 lawyers have been detained since the coup, including some of the nation’s best-known lawyers, some of whom are facing even more serious charges.