Myanmar Elections produce refugees, not hope

Some voters at gunpoint (Photo courtesy of Radio Liberty/AFP)

By Joseph Juhn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – A day after the historic elections held for the first time in twenty years in Myanmar, thousands of new refugees fled into Northern Thailand on Monday. The fighting broke out between the Myanmar Army and ethnic rebels. Although the election was disguised as a movement towards democracy, it has been widely denounced by the international community as fraudulent, with citizens not having the freedom to vote correctly.

The International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees) says that “the fighting between the Myanmar military and an ethnic minority armed group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), following the Myanmar elections on Sunday, resulted in an estimated 12,000 people fleeing into Thailand at the Mae Sot and Three Pagoda Pass border crossing points.”

UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, said refugees started to cross the border early Monday on foot and on inner tubes across the Moei River. According to Mahecic, many of the refugees testified that they fled because they were afraid for their lives after their houses were attacked while other said they fled the sound of fighting.

”Many collected their children from school and fled to Thailand with only the clothes on their back, some even barefoot,” said Mahecic. “At first, only women and children were crossing, but later in the day more men arrived. Among the new arrivals are mothers with newborn babies as young as five days and 15 days.”  

A government election has not been held in Myanmar since 1990 when leader of the National League for Democracy Party (NDL), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won with 60 percent of the popularity vote. However, it didn’t take too long until the military intervened and denied her power and continues to hold her in custody to this day.

Many unsung heroes demanded the return of their civil and political rights, which have been denied by the military-led government for more than 26 years. However, the government often resorted to violent repression to deal with its citizens’ demands for freedom, and it is estimated that more than 10,000 citizens have died in the process.

This led to thousands of refugees fleeing the military junta for survival and personal freedom. One of the countries that has housed these refugees is India. This past week, when US President Barack Obama paid a diplomatic visit to India, he mildly rebuked India for its diplomatic silence on Junta rule.

” When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed, as they have been in Burma (Myanmar), then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent,” President Obama said.

At least 7000 refugees have fled Myanmar in the past 22 years and are now residing in parts of India, where they still face problems. Living conditions are poor but what is worse for refugees is witnessing India’s reluctance to oppose the military Junta back home.

”My heart aches, but my mind accepts the truth,” says Htay, Burmese refugee now living in Janakpuri. So many seek refuge in other countries. Nyuant Mungpi who has settled down in India three years ago says he was disappointed to see the daily grind here.

”Most Burmese in India want the UNHCR to recognise our refugee status. We want to go to the US, Canada or Australia. There is very little recognition for us, unlike the Tibetans.” says Mungpi.

For more information, please see:

VoA News – Thousands of Burmese Flee Following Elections, Fighting – 9 November 2010

The Times of India – They want India to speak up – 12 November 2010

Geneva Lunch – Burma/Myanmar refugees flooding Thailand – 11 November 2010

Pacific.Scoop – Burma’s elections highlight cruel tale of repression by junta – 9 November 2010

Suu Kyi, Myanmar Political Prisoner

By David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

RANGOON, Union of Myanmar – The anticipated release of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, scheduled for November 13, has placed the Burmese government under International pressure.  Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide election success in Myanmar in 1990, but the military junta overruled the results.  

Aung San Suu Kyis supporters rally at Burmas embassy in Tokyo yesterday
Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters rally at Burma's embassy in Tokyo yesterday

Suu Kyi, has become the icon of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and remains the military government’s most well-known opposition.  Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. Critics say the coming elections aim to create a disguise of democracy. The regime recently passed a law that made her ineligible to stand in the November 7 election because of her court conviction, due to a bizarre incident in which an American swam to her lakeside home.

The November poll is part of the junta’s long-announced “roadmap to democracy”, but critics have dismissed it as a sham designed to keep the military in power.

The country needs to show the world that its November elections are credible by releasing Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this week.

“The regime has repeatedly claimed it intended to release her on various dates over the years and has then failed to follow through on its commitment to release her.  So, ultimately, I don’t tend to follow what they say, but rather what they do,” said attorney Jared Genser, who is based in Washington.

Mr. Ban said after Monday’s meeting, that the ministers had reiterated the need for the election process to be “more inclusive, participatory and transparent”.

Nyan Win, the foreign minister, rejected international condemnation on Tuesday, insisting that the junta is committed to a “free and fair” vote.

But, uncertainty continues to mount over whether the military regime will actually release the 65-year-old human rights and democratic activist, known reverently among Myanmar’s people as “The Lady”, will remain until the moment she appears in public.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was forcibly disbanded in May, under the new and prohibitive election laws.

Government hurdles to opposition candidates include a fee of $500 per candidate, the equivalent of several months’ pay, for the majority of the Burmese people.

The National Democratic Force (NDF), a breakaway opposition party, is among those planning to contest the vote, a decision that put it at odds with Suu Kyi.

A Myanmar analyst based in Thailand said any release would come with conditions and that Suu Kyi “won’t be free to go out”.  “It’s a military dictatorship. No matter what the legal background of the issue, if they don’t want to release her, she won’t be released,” Aung Naing Oo said.

Along with promises to release Suu Kyi, the government, this week, moved to quash what it views as attempts to undermine the vote.

For more information, please see:

CNN World – Lawyers skeptical about Myanmar releasing Suu Kyi – 1 October 2010

Al Jazerra English – Suu Kyi to be ‘freed’ after polls – 1 October 2010

BBC – UN chief call for ‘inclusive’ Burma election – 27 September 2010

Myanmar Detainee Released After Seven Years

By M.E. Dodge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s ruling junta, released the deputy leader of the country’s pro-democracy party, U Tin Oo, after spending nearly seven years in detention. There remains, however, no indication whether he or still-detained party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will be allowed to take part in this year’s elections for the National League for Democracy Party.

Image: Tin Oo Tin Oo, deputy leader of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy Party, talk to journalists at his home in Yangon after he was released Saturday from nearly seven years in detention. Photograph courtesy of MSNBC: World News.

Oo, now 82-years old, helped propel the National League for Democracy along with Suu Kyi. Authorities arrested Oo in May 2003 on politically motivated charges of disturbing public order after pro-government militias attacked the convoy carrying him and other opposition leaders. He has been held under an annually renewed detention order and denied access to visitors and fellow party leaders since 2003.

The release comes shortly before a United Nations envoy, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is scheduled to visit Myanmar on February 20. The visit is viewed by many as a status report, to evaluate the regime’s progress on human rights. Quintana is expected to meet several key ministers and members of the opposition during his five-day visit. He is also to tour Yangon’s notorious Insein prison and another prison in the northwestern state of Rakhine.

National League for Democracy Party spokesman, Nyan Win, said the party welcomes the U.N. envoy’s visit since gross human rights violations continue. According to Win, “His visit won’t be able to totally address the human rights issue but the visit can certainly cover human rights abuses.”

Mark Farmaner, director of the rights group Burma Campaign UK, commented on Oo’s release, stating it is “very welcome, but we should not attach any political significance to the release.  Burmese democracy activists are regularly released when the generals want to score points with the international community, and are then arrested again later.” Human rights groups say the junta holds some 2,100 political prisoners.

In commenting on his release, Oo said, “I am not happy with my freedom. I am very sorry about my colleagues who are still serving time in prisons.” Oo continues to pray for their early release at Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda. Oo, a one-time defense minister, said he hopes to continue to work for democracy. He wants to serve as vice chairman of the league, and coordinate political activities with Suu Kyi and the party’s 20-member Central Executive Committee.

For more information, please see:

Boston Globe – 14, 2010

Human Rights Watch Burma: Release Democracy Leader U Tin Oo – February 13, 2010

MSNBC: World News – Myanmar frees opposition figure after 7 years – February 13, 2010

Mizzima – Hope Mounts Over Tin Oo’s Release –  February 12, 2010

Japan Promises Aid to Mekong Region

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

TOKYO, Japan – Japan and five Southeast Asian nations in the Mekong region ended a successful summit meeting on Saturday with Japan promising more than $5.5 billion in loans and grants in the next three years.

Japan’s prime minster said that the Mekong region comprising Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand is a “priority area” for Japan’s official development assistance.  The Mekong region is one of the poorest areas of Southeast Asia, isolated and marred by war and political turmoil.

The prime minister released a statement saying, “We strongly recogni[z]ed the need for further strengthening of Mekong-Japan relationship and cooperation to maximi[z]e the potential of the Mekong region.” 

A Japanese official from the foreign ministry added, “Japan plans to expand our humanitarian aid and assistance for human resources development….”

Accordingly, Japan’s prime minister plans to increase aid to Myanmar, a country criticized by the international community for its human rights abuses, including the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Japan has given about $31 million worth of aid to Myanmar in the past.  The aid came mostly as disaster relief and humanitarian assistance since Japan has been reluctant to provide loans and grants to countries criticized for human rights violations.

The goal of the leaders at the Summit was to boost development through cooperation, and they agreed on a plan that would promote development, protect the environment and combat climate change.

The participants at the meeting also stated that they “expect” the Myanmar government to take “more positive steps in its democrati[z]ation process” and called for transparent elections next year.

The Japanese prime minister has been advocating for an EU-style Asian community and has been committed to strengthening economic development in Asia.  The Summit also came at a time when tensions between Thailand and Cambodia are increasing because of Cambodia naming Thailand’s fugitive ex-premier as Cambodian government adviser.
For more information, please see:

Asia One – Japan to increase aid to Myanmar: PM – 8 November 2009

Channel News Asia – Japan steps up aid to Mekong nations – 7 November 2009

Straight Times – Japan-Mekong talks wrap up – 7 November 2009

Suu Kyi Issued Guilty Verdict

By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar– Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate and democratic leader, was convicted for violating her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American man into her residence.  Suu Kyi had denied the charge claiming that the man had swam across a lake into her home, but the Myanmar court ordered Suu Kyi to serve another 18-month sentence of house arrest.

Suu kyi2 Aung San Suu Kyi (Source: AFP)

Human rights activists are calling this verdict politically motivated and that the decision is an example of Myanmar military government’s abuse of power.  Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said, “This trial was a farce, a brutal distortion of the legal process.  By silencing prominent opponents through bogus trials, the generals are clearly showing why the elections they have been touting for next year won’t bring change.” Adams’ organization is demanding Suu Kyi’s immediate and unconditional release.

Human Rights Watch is also urging Myanmar’s allies and trade partners to denounce Suu Kyi’s guilty verdict and impose financial sanctions against Myanmar’s military leadership, in addition to asking the UN Security Council to take measures condemning the country’s military leaders.

Furthermore, world leaders have expressed their disgust and disapproval.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he “deplores” the verdict, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the verdict “monstrous,” and French President Nicolas Sarkozy referred to the verdict as “brutal and unjust,” while U.S. President Barack Obama described Suu Kyi’s trial as “a show trial.”

Suu kyiYoung girl at a demonstration supporting Suu Kyi (Source: AFP)

Suu Kyi’s trial was closed to the public, and foreign diplomats and the press were only allowed to observe on a few occasions.  Criminal trials of political prisoners in Myanmar do not meet international standards.  Myanmar judges are not independent and the defense is not given sufficient opportunity to present its case.

Suu Kyi has told her defense team to proceed with an appeal, and her lawyers filed a petition with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights claiming that Suu Kyi is being arbitrarily detained in violation of international human rights law.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi Verdict ‘Reprehensible’ – 11 August 2009

MSNBC – Myanmar court convicts Nobel laureate Suu Kyi – 11 August 2009

UPI – Rights group: Suu Kyi verdict power abuse – 11 August 2009

Celebrities Tweeting for Freedom

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BANKGKOK, Thailand – A movement started by several Hollywood celebrities and human rights activists around the world aims to finally free Myanmar’s democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is approaching her 64th birthday. She has spent 14 of them in detention.

Sui Kyi will likely spend her birthday in Yangon’s notorious lnsein prison, facing charges of violating the terms of her house arrest. Suu Kyi harbored an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside home.

Although the ruling junta is expected to deliver a guilty verdict, several activists and celebrities are standing in unison to stop the Nobel laureate from spending up to five years in prison. “We must not stand by as she is silenced again. Now is the time for the international community to speak with one voice,” Julia Roberts wrote as part of the campaign.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been largely controlled by the military since 1962, and prior similar campaigns have failed to illicit any real change. “Burma’s generals think they can act with impunity. We’ll have to wait until after the trial verdict to see if this time will be any different,” said Mark Farmaner of Burma Campaign UK.

In a parallel campaign, the organizers have gathered the signatures of over a 100 former and current political prisoners from over 20 countries calling for the release of political prisoners in Myanmar. They have also called upon the U.N. Security Council to impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar.

A collective message sent out by the organizers, celebrities, and activists read, “The continued denial of your freedom unacSUU KYIceptably attacks the human rights of all 2, 156 political prisoners in Myanmar. As those also incarcerated for our political beliefs, we share the world’s outrage.”

Although the united front put up by the campaigners is commendable, it makes one wonder if the collective international voice has the power to illicit change, or whether the power lies with a handful of government leaders talking over whiskey in a smoke-filled room.

For more information, please see:

AP – Celebrities Tweet for Suu Kyi’s Release – June 14, 2009

The New Nation – The Future of Democracy in Myanmar – June 14, 2009

Trial of Nobel Laureate Puts Burma Back in the International Spotlight

By Alishba I. Kassim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

RANGOON, Burma-The trial of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has once again brought attention to the military junta controlling Burma. Human rights activists call the trial a sham and cite it as a chance to bring attention to the rights violations occurring under the current government.

Suu Kyi is facing an additional five years in detention for violating the terms of her house arrest. Suu Kyi was arrested for the violations when she allowed a trespasser to remain in her home overnight when he was too weak to leave. Many in the international community have called the trial a sham, including United States President Barack Obama who called the charges “spurious.”

International observers claim that the charges are meant to keep Suu Kyi out of the upcoming elections. Suu Kyi is the Secretary General of Burmas National League for Democracy and is one of the most vocal critics of Burmas ruling military junta. If Suu Kyi is in detention at the time of the elections she will not be allowed to play any role in process. Critics say this is the real reason behind the trial.

Many countries and human rights groups have asked the military junta to stop the trial and release Suu Kyi along with the estimated 2,000 other political prisoners being held by the Burmese government. Observers say that the military junta could gain political legitimacy if they allowed her to play a role in the upcoming elections. Human rights activist claim the trial and persecution of the Nobel Peace Prize winner is another example of the long line of human rights violations committed under the watch of the ruling military junta. The juntas spokesman Major-General Aye Myint stated that the trial “is not politicalit’s not a human rights issue, so we don’t accept pressure from abroad.”

For more information, please see:

Voice of America – Injustice In Burma – 29 May 2009

Washington Post – What the U.N. Can’t Ignore in Burma – 1 June 2009

Guardian – The EU must start squeezing Burma – 1 June 2009

Junta Allows Doctor Visit to the Detained Opposition Leader

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – After an American man allegedly sneaked into the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s home last week, Junta took her physician for questioning, according to the National League for Democracy spokesman Nyan Win.  Last week, an American man named John Willian Yeattaw swam 1 1/4 miles across Inya Lake to detained Suu Kyi’s home and “secretly entered the house”, according state-run press.  Myanmar authorities arrested the man.

Nyan Win says that the physician arrived at Sun Kyi’s house for her routine monthly checkup but was barred from entering.  Later, the authorities took doctor Tin Myo Win from his home for questioning, and have not returned since. “We don’t know where he was kept or why he was questioned,” Nyan Win said.

Human Rights groups have accused Junta of denying Suu Kyi adequate medical care.  Finally, Junta allowed a doctor to make a visit to Suu Kyi on Monday. Tin Myo Win’s assistant doctor, Dr. Pyone Moe Ei was granted a medical visit on Monday afternoon to Suu Kyi’s home, where she is under house arrest.  Suu Kyi was found to be suffering from dehydration and low blood pressure. A medical assistant has placed Ms Suu Kyi on an intravenous drip, and her health has improved since.  The doctor issued an appeal for Suu Kyi to be allowed further treatment for her condition.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the 63-year-old Nobel laureate, one of the world’s most famous political prisoners.  She has been living under house arrest without trial for 13 of the past 19 years.  Suu Kyi’s party won a victory in Myanmar’s 1990′ elections.  But military authorities ignored the results, and many party members are now in prison, in exile or in hiding.

For more information, please see:

AP – Myanmar arrests US man for entering Suu Kyi home – 07 May 2009

AP – Doctor of Myanmar’s Suu Kyi questioned by police – 09 May 2009

BBC – Burma’s Suu Kyi ‘in poor health’ – 09 May 2009

Times – Burma’s Most Famous Political Prisoner Gets a Surprise Visitor – 08 May 2009

United Press International – Doctor allowed access to Aung San Suu Kyi – 11 May 2009

USA – American arrested for allegedly sneaking into Burmese activist’s home – 07 May 2009

Washington Post – Myanmar junta allows doctor to see ailing Suu Kyi – 11 May 2009

Junta Released More Than 6000 Prisoners

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar
– Junta released more than 6,000 prisoners after the United Nations human rights rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana concluded his visit last week.  Several monks and pro-democracy members were among released prisoners, a party spokesperson and a rights group said.  State radio and television reports prisoners were being freed because of their good conduct in jails.  These prisoners also would be able to participate in a general election planned for next year.

However, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand-based rights group believes “it is just for show”.  “This group does not include any policy makers or other key players,” said Tate Naing, the group’s secretary.  National League for Democracy spokesperson Nyan Win said he was expecting to hear about additional NLD members freed.

The United Nations human rights rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana noting “The human rights situation in Myanmar is still challenging.”  During his visit, Mr. Quintana were not allow to meet with either Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition who is under house arrest, or Burma’s junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe.  Mr. Quintana’s mission to Myanmar is to push for the freedom of political prisoners – including Aung San Suu Kyi.  The Junta said that they would consider his recommendation, amending some national laws to be more in keeping with international standards.

At the same time, pressure is rising for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit Myanmar again.  Aung San Suu Kyi and others have written a letter welcoming a possible visit by the secretary-general to “discuss a broad range of issues,” U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari told reporters after briefing the Security Council on his recent trip to Myanmar.  U.N. Security Council members said they would support a visit by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

For more information, please see

AP – 19 political prisoners released from Myanmar jails – 22 February 2009

AP – Myanmar junta announces 6300 convicts to be freed – 20 February 2009

BBC – Burma rights still ‘challenging’ – 20 February 2009

Reuters – Political prisoners among 6,000 freed in Myanmar – 22 February 2009

UN Envoy Ibrahim Gambari ‘s Visit to Myanmar

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Myanmar last week. During the trip, he met with detained National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and with government ministers and diplomats.  However, he was not granted an audience with Senior General Than Shwe, the top military ruler of Myanmar.

Junta has detained Suu Kyi for 13 years.  She told Mr. Gambari that she would only hold talks with the junta if all political prisoners are released and the results of 1990 elections won by her National League for Democracy are recognized.  Last August, Suu Kyi declined Mr. Gambari’s visit despite being held under house arrest since May 2003.  Analysts believe her snub was to show displeasure at the acceptance by the United Nations of planned 2010 elections in Myanmar.

NLD members also said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should not visit until all Burma’s political prisoners are free.  According to the U.S. State Department, currently more than 2,000 political prisoners are held in Myanmar’s jails.

Junta accused her of setting unrealistic conditions for talks.  “A dialogue will be practical and successful only if the discussions are based on the reality of prevailing conditions,” Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan said in a statement carried by state media yesterday. “There will be no success if it is based on unrealistic conditions.”

Mr. Gambari asked Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein to release political prisoners, to have a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and to make the military-guided political process inclusive for all.  However, Thein Sein told Gambari that the UN should press for the lifting of international sanctions to promote political improvements in the country.  “If the U.N. wants to see economic development and political stability, the U.N. should first try to remove economic sanctions and visa bans,” was the prime minister’s response, according to state television.

For more information, please see:

BBC – UN envoy’s Burma trip criticized – 04 February 2009

Bloomberg – Myanmar Junta Calls Suu Kyi’s Conditions for Talks Unrealistic – 05 February 2009

New York Times – Opposition Leader in Myanmar Expresses Frustration With U.N. – 04 February 2009

Reuters – Myanmar’s Suu Kyi meets UN envoy, sticks to terms – 02 February 2009

Peaceful Protesters Arrested in Burma

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGONG, Myanmar – On December 30th, the Burmese government arrested nine peaceful protestors calling for the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Tun Tun Win, Tun Tun Linn, Pyae Pyae Aung, Win Myint Maung, Min Thein, Kaung Htet Hlaing, Phyo Wai,Yeni Soe and Htet Htet Oo Wai are members of the opposition party’s youth wing, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

According to a witness the protesters were wearing white Jasmine flowers symbolic of their “White Jasmine Campaign” to free Burma’s political prisoners. The arrest worried many locals as they do not know where the protestors had been taken.

Witnesses say that the protesters were marching down the former parliament building in the capital, carrying signs and banners for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi before they were violently beaten and “dragged” into a truck by the police.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in Rangoon city for the past 13 years. The NLD won a landslide victory in 1990 elections, however, the current military government of Burma, which has ruled the country since 1962 has never allowed any other party to take power.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma issued a statement condemning the arrest of the youth members and calls for their release. According to the Association, the current Burmese government has arrested more than 200 political prisoners in November 2008 alone.

Burma’s ruling military government, the People’s Power Force, has recently drafted a constitution paving the way for what it says will be democratic elections in 2010, but many critics are skeptical of the government.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Burma Activists Arrested at March – 30 December 2008

Global Voice – Myanmar: Nine Activists Arrested During Peaceful March – 30 December 2008

VOA – Burma Arrests 9 Pro-Democracy Protesters – 30 December 2008

Exiled Lawyer Speaks Out About Myanmar Judicial System

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGONG, Myanmar – A defense lawyer, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, who fled to Thailand, has spoken out about delays and restrictions in the Myanmar judicial system.  Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min and fellow lawyer Nyi Nyi Htwe were representing 11 youths who had staged a protest march in Rangoon. Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min and Nyi Nyi Htwe were charged with intentional insult to a public servant sitting in judicial proceedings after three of his clients turned their backs to the court during their trial as a protest against the legal process.  The Hlaing Thaya township court in Rangoon sentenced them to six months in prison.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min told reporters in Thailand that his clients were arrested by police, and were mentally and physically tortured to obtain evidence that they had committed the crime.
“Evidence obtained in such a manner by the police was then used in court. In that case, I examined five witnesses before I fled the country,” he said.

He also described to Human Rights Watch the secretive workings of the Myanmar’s legal system.  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 added.

At a year-end news conference, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has criticized the Myanmar Junta for not following through on its promises of advancement towards democracy.  Mr. Ban said Junta has failed to engage in democratic dialogue and release its political prisoners.  The United Nations has repeatedly called on Myanmar Junta to release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrested for 13 of the past 19 years, as well as all other political prisoners.
For more information, please see:

Democratic Voice of Burma – Exiled lawyer slams Burmese legal system – 16 December 2008

Human Rights Watch – Burma: Lawyer’s Testimony Highlights Distorted Justice– 16 December 2008

Irrawaddy – Burmese Defense Lawyer Flees to Thailand, Blasts Regime – 15 December 2008

Radio Free Asia – Burmese Lawyer Flees, Speaks Out – 18 December 2008

Voice of America – UN Chief Criticizes Burma for Lack of Democratic Progress – 18 December 2008

Myanmar Sentenced 14 Democracy Advocates to Jail for 65 Years

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Fourteen democracy advocates of the 88 Generation Students were sentenced to prison terms of 65 years each, according to regional news accounts and reports on a Web site for exiles. The activists were sentenced during a closed-door hearing in Yangon.  “Family members were not allowed to attend the hearing,” the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said in a statement.

Many of the activists were arrested during anti-junta protests last year.  The protests lead to massive pro-democracy demonstrations, which were resulted in a military crackdown by the Junta.  Amnesty International and other international human rights groups condemned the Junta’s action.  “It’s a powerful reminder that Myanmar’s military government is ignoring calls by the international community to clean up its human rights record.” Amnesty International said in a statement.

Nyunt Nyunt Oo, mother of 31-year-old Pandeik Tun, one of the 14, said her son and others were sentenced under various charges including the so-called 5/96 law declaring that anyone who demonstrates, makes speeches or writes statements undermining stability will face up to 20 years in prison. She said the other charges involved the Video Act, the Foreign Exchange act, the Electronics Act and links with illegal groups.  Oo stated she will not appeal the decision because she does not think any effort will make a difference.

On Monday, a court gave a 20-year sentence to blogger Nay Phone Latt, who was arrested in January after his blog in Myanmar was banned.  Also, a leading Myanmar poet Saw Wai, who is accused of penning a secret anti-junta message in one of his works, received two years at the same hearing, according to the spokesman Nyan Win of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

For more information, please see:

AP – Myanmar: Long sentences for democracy advocates – 11 November 2008

AP – Relatives: Myanmar activists get long prison terms – 11 November 2008

AFP – Govt slams jailing of Myanmar activists – 11 November 2008

International Herald Tribune – Myanmar sentences 14 dissidents – 11 November 2008

Reuters – Myanmar jails dissidents for 65 years – 11 November 2008

Two Defense Lawyers Sentenced to Jail in Myanmar

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

r – Two defense lawyers have been sentenced for six months at the Northern District Court in Myanmar’s former capital of Rangoon. Nyi Nyi Htwe and Ko Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min represented 11 Kemmendine Township National League for Democracy (NLD) members that are being held in prison.

The NLD members were accused of demonstrating against the military regime, and calling for the release of detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Nyi Nyi Htwe was taken into custody Oct. 29 at a teashop near the Hlaing Thayar courthouse, witnesses said.  Ko Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min is now in hiding.  The Hlaing Thayar judge has charged them under Mynamar Criminal Act 128.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min and Nyi Nyi Htwe appeared in court Oct. 23 with their clients.  At that hearing, three of the youths called Information Minister Gen. Kyaw  Hsan as a witness, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min said, speaking from an undisclosed location.  The judge told the lawyers to control their clients, but Nyi Nyi Htwe replied that he was required to represent his clients’ wishes.

In an interview with Democratic Voice of Burma, Nyi Nyi Htwe says that the charges were deliberately oppressing political activists and those lawyers who are working for political activists.  “As a lawyer who handles political cases, I feel this is deliberate pressure,” Nyi Nyi Htwe said.  “I already knew that my legal licence was not secure and that we could end up in jail at any time,” he added.

Similar pressure is being directed at other defense lawyers representing clients in political cases.  Khin Maung Shein said he was also threatened by a judge to take care when recently attending a political case at a Sanchaung Township court hearing.  “The Sanchaung Township court judge threatened me yesterday, saying I could be sentenced to a prison term for interruption of judicial proceedings and told me to take care in handling the case,” he explained.

For more information, please see:

Democratic Voice of Burma – Lawyer and activists jailed for six months – 3 November 2008

Radio Free Asia – Burma Jails Lawyers for Contempt – 30 October, 2008

Voice of America – US Group Says Burma Detained Opposition Activists’ Lawyer– 29 October 2008

UN’s Frustration Towards Myanmar Junta

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YONGANG, Myanmar – U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Myanmar’s Government and opposition to increase dialogue in his latest report to the General Assembly.  The report covers Myanmar’s development between 23 October 2007 and 5 September 2008, when the junta faced global condemnation for its crackdown on the biggest opposition protests in almost 20 years.   It also highlights UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari failure to meet with Suu Kyi or win concessions from the regime when he visited Myanmar in August.

In the report, Ban said “it remains a source of frustration that meaningful steps have yet to be taken by the Myanmar authorities in response to the concerns and expectations of the United Nations and the international community.” The main U.N. demands have been for the junta to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and start a serious dialogue with the opposition.  However, it is unfortunate that specific suggestions of the United Nations to improve the credibility and inclusiveness of the political process have thus far not been taken up by the government.  Ban continued, “It is unfoHe urges all countries aiming for a solution in Myanmar to “work constructively together” in support of the UN’s efforts.

Myanmar Junta announced it had overwhelming public support in a May on an army-drafted constitution referendum, which was part of a process meant to culminate in multiparty elections in 2010 and end a nearly 20-year political stalemate.  However, Western countries have condemned the referendum as a sham.  Myanmar appointed a liaison officer to meet with the opposition leader Suu Kyi five times between November and January. The talks, the first since 2003, then stopped.  The UN also remains concerned about ongoing reports of armed conflict, associated human rights abuses, and humanitarian problems in ethnic minority areas, particularly in Kayin and Kayah states.

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg – Myanmar’s Failure to Talk With Suu Kyi Frustrates UN, Ban Says – 21 October 2008

Reuters – U.N.’s Ban frustrated by Myanmar inaction – 20 October 2008

UN News Centre- Enhanced dialogue among all parties vital for Myanmar’s political future – 20 October 2008