JURIST EXCLUSIVE – International concern grew Friday for Myanmar lawyers and law students arbitrarily detained in the wake of the February 1 military coup that deposed the civilian government and prompted mass pro-democracy street demonstrations that continue despite the killing of over 50 protestors by security forces in the last two weeks. In London, the Law Society – the governing body for solicitors in England and Wales – announced that it had sent a letter to Myanmar’s ambassador to the UK expressing alarm at reports of arbitrary arrests, detention, and even alleged enforced disappearances of lawyers since the junta displaced the civil power headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. In its letter, sent March 2, the Law Society also expressed alarm over ongoing intimidation and harassment of lawyers and other conduct resulting in lawyers being prevented from providing help to detained protesters. The Law Society noted:
These actions deprive the citizens of Myanmar of their access to justice, violate international fair trial guarantees – including the right to have legal representation of one’s own choosing – and the principle of independence of the legal profession. These rights and principles are cornerstones of the rule of law and must be upheld.
The Law Society also observed:
The government of Myanmar is reported to be amending several pieces of legislation, including the Penal Code 1860 (s124A) which will criminalise anti-government protest with imprisonment of 20 years. These amendments also remove obligations of state authorities to bring a detainee before a court within twenty-four hours. Such amendments seem aimed at facilitating the repression of civil dissent and peaceful protest and should be reversed.
The Law Society called for the immediate release of lawyers U Khin Maung Hla, U Nyan Win, and U Kyaw and is seeking a guarantee that all lawyers in Myanmar can carry out their legitimate professional activities without intimidation, harassment, improper interference or reprisals, consistent with provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, and the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Press reports published late last month and subsequently highlighted by the IAPL Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers have also indicated that lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, representing Aung San Suu Kyi in her trial on several trivial charges relating to possessing walkie-talkies and breaching COVID restrictions, has had to stay in a set of rotated lodgings for fear of arrest himself.
Also on Friday, law students reporting for JURIST in Myanmar confirmed that several lawyers and law teachers of their acquaintance have been detained or have been charged and are avoiding detention. In particular, they report that senior lawyer U Tun Kyi of Mandalay has been charged under section 505 of the junta-revised Penal Code, prohibiting (among other things) spreading fear or false news. Kyi was one of the first Myanmar lawyers to speak out on Twitter in February against the military coup, denying the legitimacy of the junta under the Myanmar constitution. Law students reporting for JURIST in Yangon say that nine University of Yangon law students arrested Wednesday after a mass pro-democracy protest and since held at Insein Prison still have not been released, despite interventions by lawyers and teachers. “Our friends are still detained,” they told JURIST. “They [the authorities] are just procrastinating intentionally.”
Our correspondents say that lawyers associated with International Bridges to Justice and other groups are meanwhile moving forward with plans to provide more comprehensive legal assistance to all detainees of the military junta. AAPP (Burma), the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, reported Friday in its daily briefing that
As of March 5, a total of (1522) people have been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the military coup on February 1. Of them, (3) were convicted; (2) to two years imprisonment, (1) to three months. (61) have been charged with a warrant and are evading arrest, (307) were released. A total of (1215) are still under detention or have outstanding charges/evading arrest, including the (3) sentenced.