Myanmar Army targets lawyers defending political prisoners Military News


As Myanmar’s military forces struggle to consolidate their control over a revolted country, it has increasingly turned to a different kind of resistance: lawyers defending political prisoners. Last month, at least five lawyers were arrested across Myanmar for defending politicians and activists, an escalation of the army’s assault on the judiciary.

First, in late May, police arrested Thein Hlaing Tun, the lawyer for the ousted Naypyidaw Council President Myo Aung, co-accused of Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar’s elected leader was ousted by army chief Min Aung Hlaing in a military coup on February 1 after his National League for Democracy party collapsed in the November election.

Since the coup, the military regime has killed about 883 civilian protesters and arrested, charged or convicted more than 6,000 opponents according to the Political Prisoners Assistance Association, which has been monitoring the situation.

Thein Hlaing Tun and five other lawyers were with his clients on May 24 when he was arrested and charged under section 505A, an incitement charge that carries a three-year prison sentence become the generals’ favorite tool. Khin Maung Zaw, the head of Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense team, said Myo Aung was not informed of the arrest until he met with the other lawyers on June 7.

“He then appointed new lawyers among us,” Khin Maung Zaw said in a text message. “We are concerned about other lawyers,” he told Al Jazeera, saying the situation has become “VERY VERY difficult” because of the danger of “being harassed or detained” and by internal disagreements over how to proceed in a biased legal system.

Shortly afterwards, on May 28, a lawyer from the Ayeyarwady region was arrested during a trial while defending a political dissident. According to local media, he had taken some well-known clients, including the superintendent of a hospital who had gone on strike instead of working under the military regime. She was also charged under section 505A.

Khin Maung Zaw, center, who is part of Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense team, says the situation has become “VERY VERY difficult” for lawyers defending political prisoners and critics of generals [File: AP Photo]

On June 2, lawyer Thet Tun Oo was arrested in Kachin state while trying to attend a trial. He reportedly represented more than 100 political prisoners, including detained members of the Kachin state government. One of his colleagues spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals, and said the arrest has intensified the climate of fear that already existed.

“After they arrested him, we went into hiding, but we also try to continue defending the cases,” he said. When lawyers go to defend cases, he said police uniformed them to photograph and videotape them in an intimidating way, and women lawyers have been too scared to go to court alone.

The lawyer said that before hiding, he felt that he was constantly under surveillance and often noticed “strangers looking around me.” She has also received suspicious phone calls from unknown numbers demanding to meet with her for legal advice in person immediately, requests she is too afraid to accept.

“We know we could be arrested, but I can’t help it. Because if we stop doing this, who will defend these cases? “she said.

“There is no real justice”

On June 12, two lawyers were arrested in Kayin state while trying to cross the border into Thailand, after learning they were wanted by the military. Nilar and Phone Myat Thu were part of the legal team of Chief Minister Kayin, who was removed from office and charged along with most civilian leaders in February.

Some lawyers have had to hide but say they will continue to defend political prisoners and those arrested [File: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA]

A close friend of both lawyers said he received a call from another mutual friend around midnight to inform him of the arrest.

“Both lawyers had been hiding in Myawaddy since they learned they would be arrested soon … To date we have not seen or met them,” he said. Like the others, they have been charged under section 505A.

“We believe that there is no rule of law. If lawyers were arrested like that, we should have a chance to meet them. Now, no one can protect us, not even the law can protect our rights, ”he said.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said attorneys ’attention could also cut off a vital source of information about other detained inmates.

“[R]restricting this relationship with clients through the intimidation of lawyers would also mean that there is less information coming from prisons about what is happening to people inside, ”he said, adding that this information has helped organizations of rights to document “torture and ill-treatment” in prisons.

Last week, Naypyidaw Council vice-president was able to reveal through his lawyer that he suffered a broken rib during interrogations. Lawyers are also often the only way to communicate with loved ones from family and friends, and the only way high-profile detainees can get messages to the public.

“Arresting lawyers and questioning them about their activities and their clients will ensure that no one wants to provide legal advice to activists, which is probably the real intent of the board’s actions here,” Robertson said, warning that “there is no real justice “will be found as long as the judicial system is” under the fingers of the military. “

Military takeover and subsequent pressure on the judiciary are also a severe blow to Myanmar’s younger generation, which came of age at a time when the country was opening up and believing that the things could be different.

A law student in Yangon said the coup has destroyed the hope she once had for her chosen profession and asks if she should finish her career.

“Even though my hopes were in the future … on Feb. 1, it all fell apart,” he said. While he believed there were “many flaws and flaws” in the legal system before the coup, the situation has become “even more terrible.”

The situation has led some law students to wonder about continuing the chosen profession [AP Photo]

“What is [the law] if the board is arresting everyone who disagrees? she asked.

She said she wanted to become a lawyer to “give me strength, voice and confidence to help the society in which I live,” but instead began to feel “powerless.”

But she does not give up.

Pressure on lawyers is also making people in the legal community “angry and motivated to fight this unjust and unjust system,” he told Al Jazeera. “Our generation should and should be the last to experience a coup.”

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