On 8 July, Shwebo Township court handed out additional sentences to U Aung Soe, U Maung San and Ko Soe Thu, increasing their prison terms to respectively 11 years and six months and two years and six months. The three human rights defenders were previously detained, held incommunicado and sentenced in unfair trials for their opposition to the Letpadaung Copper Mine.
The three rights defenders were denied the right to access and consult with a defense lawyer. Court and prison officials thwarted attempts to gain power of attorney by U Aung Thurein Tun. The trio was not allowed to meet with a lawyer until their final court hearing when they received their trumped-up sentences. In a further perversion of the rule of law, prison guards intimidated U Aung Thurein Tun by listening in to his conversation with the three human rights defenders and taking photos in contravention of the principle of lawyer-client conversation confidentiality. International standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, require defendants to have prompt access to a lawyer.
U Aung Soe from the Yangon People’s Support Network, U Maung San and Ko Soe Thu are human rights activists who peacefully protested against the construction of the Letpadaung copper mine in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Region. On 25 April, local police arbitrarily arrested the three after villagers began plowing the fields that had previously been confiscated from them.
Following the arrest, their whereabouts remained unknown for over 30 days. On 1 June, after a closed-door court proceeding, Shwebo Township court sentenced U Aung Soe to 18 months in prison and U Maung San and Ko Soe Thu to six months imprisonment each under section 188 of the Penal Code (disobedience of an order promulgated by a public servant), in total disregard of their right to due process of law.
“In Burma today, human rights activists still pay an unacceptably high price for exposing and highlighting fundamental injustices. This new verdict makes it impossible for the international community to deny that Burma is not that fundamentally different from under the previous military regime and that it is still not a free country,” said Khin Ohmar, Coordinator of Burma Partnership.
“Releasing political prisoners is not meaningful if the government continues to fill our country’s jails with replacements. Freedom today is worthless if you are imprisoned tomorrow,” said Ko Bo Kyi, Joint-Secretary, from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma. He added, “Since their initial detention, the three rights defenders were placed outside the reach and protection of the law. If the people of Burma are to believe the government is sincere about implementing the rule of law, then words need to be put into action. A first step would be to take action against state authorities who have stripped the three defendants of their most basic rights, including every human’s right to not be arbitrarily imprisoned and right to consult with a lawyer.”
On June 8, the Shwebo Township court sentenced U Aung Soe to an additional 10 years imprisonment under sections 505(b) (intent to cause alarm to the public), 295 and 295(a) (intent to insult a religion), and 333 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt to deter public servant from his duty) of the Penal Code, increasing his total sentence to eleven years and six months. U Maung San and Ko Soe Thu were sentenced to two years imprisonment under sections 505(b) and 333, making their total sentence to two years and six months each in prison.
“This is the first time since the so-called reforms started that human rights activists have been sentenced to such long terms in prison. Their only crime was to peacefully oppose a military-backed business that is irreparably harming the lives and livelihoods of their communities,” added Khin Ohmar. “This is a huge red flag to anyone wanting to do business in our country. Business has human rights impacts in Burma that the government is unwilling to adequately address. The international business community needs to practice "do no harm" policies when doing business in Burma.”
Arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, unfair trial and denial of lawyer-client confidentiality have no place in a country transitioning towards democracy. Restrictions on fundamental freedoms and on human rights defenders’ work must come to an end immediately. The government must immediately and unconditionally release activists and all remaining political prisoners; cease all forms of restrictions of human rights defenders; review all legislation identified as not being in line with international human rights norms; and undertake reforms to ensure the independence, impartiality, and accountability of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial. The government must also ensure the right to a fair trial, including immediate and ongoing access to a lawyer of the defendant’s choice and that no trial takes place without the presence of a defense lawyer.
For more information please contact:
Khin Ohmar, Burma Partnership: +66 (0) 818840772