A prominent lawyer from the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) Party went missing on Wednesday in Mandalay. It is feared that Daw Ywat Nu Aung has either been arrested by the military regime or kidnapped by a pro-junta group responsible for the recent murders of NLD supporters in Mandalay.
She is part of the legal team acting for ousted Mandalay Chief Minister and NLD vice chairman Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, who is currently on trial in Mandalay’s Obo Prison for alleged corruption.
One of Daw Ywat Nu Aung’s colleagues said she last saw the lawyer on Wednesday, just before she left Dr. Zaw Myint Maung’s trial at the prison.
“I met her just before she left [the prison]. If she was arrested, it could be around 3:30 or 4pm,” said the colleague.
As of Thursday afternoon, the lawyer’s fate is still unknown.
Many suspect that Daw Ywat Nu Aung may have been arrested by the regime because she is defending a high-profile NLD figure.
However, her disappearance comes at a time when Mandalay has been rocked by the extrajudicial killings of NLD members by the Thwe Thout Group, a pro-regime militia. The group has vowed to respond to an anti-junta force’s pledge to attack regime supporters, security forces and their family members.
Si Thu’s loved ones have not heard from him for 11 days and don’t know where he is being held
A Mandalay-based lawyer known for helping farmers in land disputes with the military was “brutally” beaten by soldiers in front of his wife and children before being taken away earlier this month, a friend of his has said.
Five vehicles full of junta troops arrived at the Chanayetharzan Township home of Si Thu, 40, on April 8 to abduct him. He has not been seen or heard from since and the military has not told the family where he is being held.
“He was beaten brutally in front of his family,” said the friend, who is also a lawyer and asked not to be named. “They only stopped beating him when the wife and the children started begging the soldiers.”
From 2019 Si Thu worked pro bono on the case of a group of residents who were opposing the construction of a cement factory in the village of Aung Tha Pyay. Police shot a man in the leg during a 2020 raid targeting those protesting the factory.
The lawyer also represented farmers in Pyin Oo Lwin who tried to prevent the military from seizing their land in late 2020.
At least 20 people were arrested in Mandalay last week for their opposition to the military, according to local sources.
Three young anti-coup activists from the city, including a protest leader named Thura Aung, have been held in junta custody since January. Activists from the Mandalay Strike Committee say they are worried for the detainees’ lives.
Five years after prominent lawyer U Ko Ni, the legal advisor to the National League for Democracy Party, was shot dead in broad daylight at Yangon International Airport, the mastermind behind his killing – Aung Win Khaing – is still at large.
At the same time, the police officer who was responsible for Yangon Airport’s security at the time of U Ko Ni’s assassination has been rapidly promoted over the past five years, despite the fact that he is a former classmate of the main culprits in the killing of the lawyer.
Win Min Thein was a police colonel when U Ko Ni was assassinated, but has since been promoted to police brigadier-general and appointed the head of the No. 2 Security Police Force, a rank higher than that of the chief of the Yangon Police.
Such a rapid promotion is rare in the history of Myanmar’s Police Force, said a retired police colonel.
Win Min Thein was a member of the 36th class at the Defence Services Academy, where he was the classmate of Aung Win Khaing and Zeya Phyo, the main culprits in the assassination of U Ko Ni.
The attorneys had been providing legal assistance to defendants in politically motivated cases put forward by the junta
Four lawyers from Mandalay who had been working on the defence teams for politically motivated cases put forward by the junta have been held in an unidentified location for days since their December 19 arrest by the military authorities, according to members of their legal networks.
The families of the attorneys have not been able to confirm their whereabouts since they were taken into junta custody.
They were abducted from the office of Shwe Alin Legal Services near the No. 3 police station in Chanmyathazi Township, according to a Mandalay-based lawyer who spoke to Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity.
“They haven’t been transferred to Obo prison yet,” the lawyer said, referring to a major prison in the region. “We were told that they were still at the interrogation centre. No case has been filed against them either.”
Legal sources did not want to name three of the detained lawyers, but confirmed that one is Lwin Lwin Mar, who had been helping individuals charged with incitement since the February 1 coup. All four of the lawyers are women.
With a constantly evolving and fast-paced news agenda, human rights issues do not always make the front page. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is committed to highlighting human rights abuses across the world and holding those accountable to justice. At the 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC48), the IBAHRI joined other non-governmental organisations in statements condemning international human rights violations, with a particular focus on lawyers under attack, facing arbitrary detention or suppression of their professional activities.
Afghanistan: Since the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021, gross and systematic human rights violations continue to occur in Afghanistan, including attacks against female lawyers and judges. In partnership with a number of other NGOs, the IBAHRI released a joint open appeal to UN Member States to urge the adoption of a resolution creating a Fact-Finding Mission, or other independent investigative mechanism, for Afghanistan. The IBAHRI welcomes the new agreement of the Human Rights Council (HRC) to appoint a special rapporteur on Afghanistan to probe human rights violations by parties to the conflict, including the Taliban, as an important first step towards achieving oversight, accountability, justice and reparation for the ongoing crisis.
Belarus: The legal profession in Belarus is under threat, with attacks against lawyers on the rise. Most recently, Maxim Znak, lawyer for a former candidate for the Belarusian Presidency, was sentenced to a ten-year prison term following a closed-door trial. During the UN Interactive Dialogue the IBAHRI delivered an oral statement on behalf of several NGOs on the human rights situation in Belarus. The IBAHRI condemned the deterioration of the situation on the ground and stressed that the HRC must take action to prevent a further decline. The IBAHRI would welcome full support for the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus through adequate funding, as well as an examination of the situation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Myanmar’s military regime has amended the Bar Council Act, effectively putting the council back under the control of the junta.
Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on October 28 introduced two new amendments to the Bar Council Act, abolishing the right of lawyers to elect the council and so enabling the regime to appoint the legal body.
Under the amendment, the Attorney-General and Chief Justice of the Union will appoint members to the council.
“Lawyers have lost the right to elect members to represent them. The council has been put back under the total control of the regime like it was in the past,” said a legal expert who wished to stay anonymous.
As the Bar Council is authorized to issue and revoke advocate licenses and to regulate advocates, lawyers are likely to face tougher restrictions under the amended law, said legal experts.
“There will be restrictions and controls on lawyers applying for advocacy. And there will also be politically-motivated restrictions and instructions to existing advocates. [The amendment] will affect the freedom of advocates,” said another legal expert.
The Bar Council Act was first passed in 1929 under British colonial rule and specified that council members were to be elected democratically.
However, after the Bar Council advocated for lawyers to participate in protests against the former military regime during the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the then junta’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) amended the act. The SPDC amended two articles in 1989 to say that council members could be chosen only by the Chief Justice of the Union.
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.