BURMA/MYANMAR: Students to boycott failed judicial system

Today, on 15 March 2016, student leaders of the All Burma Federation of Student Union announced their decision to boycott the current judicial system. They have initiated a “Failed Law” campaign to raise awareness about their protest. The students protest against the failure of judicial system, as well as the 2010 Union Judiciary law, and are also calling for amendment to the 2008 Constitution.

As a part of this protest, some of the students who remain detained in Burma, due to their role in the 2015 peaceful protest against the education law, are now planning not to collaborate with the court any longer. They have made this choice because they do not believe the judicial system will allow for fair trial. Their advocates have confirmed that the power to attorney to represent the students in court will be withdrawn by the students in protest.

It was about a year ago that the non-violent student protesters suffered a brutal crackdown by the police in Letpadan Township, Burma. Initially more than 127 were arrested on 10 March 2015; some got bail later. Nearly 50 of them continue to be detained in prison. The students had called for amendment to the education law, which was passed in Parliament without consultation with student representatives during the law drafting process.

During their detention in prison in the past year, the students have suffered the brunt of a broken and unjust justice system. The students were not allowed access to their lawyers or to family members until they appeared in court for their first hearings. While being arrested, they were beaten-up with batons by the riot police and several of them were injured. They were denied and continue to be denied proper medical treatment in prison. A minor student was also detained in prison with other adult prisoners, until he got bail on 12 May 2015.

In 2016, some of the student leaders have also been slapped with additional charges for their role relating to the 2014 protest against the national education law. Many of those arrested for their protests face multiple charges over the same offence. These students contesting multiple cases suffer physical and mental anguish in prison, having to travel from court to court in different townships virtually daily. Some of the student leaders are facing up to 9 years imprisonment if found guilty.Only four plaintiff witnesses, three police officers,and one administrative officer have been examined in the trial of the Letpadan case in one year. There are as many as 40 plaintiff witnesses listed for questioning in relation to the case. So, not speedy trial but tortuous trial is being facilitated.

Former political prisoners Nilar Thein and MeeMee of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society have also had casesfiled against them in 2016,under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession law. They have been charged due to their support of student protestsin the students’ democratic movement over the past few years. They both are currently detained in Insein Prison, Yangon.

Although one year has passed, there is no remedy for the students who were brutally attacked and arrested. Despite being beaten by the police, it is non-violent students who were arrested and detained in prison; their rights have since been neglected.

The quadripartite dialogue between the Action Committee for Democratic Education, the National Network for Education Reform, the Parliament, and the government resulted in an agreement that the government will not take legal action on the student protesters and let them participate in discussions for making changes in the law. But, none of the promises in the agreement have been met.

There are number of cases reported about how the judges cannot make independent judgment when the case is related to actions of the authorities. The AHRC has itself documented numerous such examples in the past.

Therefore, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) believes that if democracy is to flourish in Burma it is imperative that the government takes action against the persons responsible for the Letpadan crackdown and reviews the judicial process related to the case. Immediate and unconditional release of the protestors will show that a more mature government in Burma has decided to move beyond the past, and embrace a democratic future, one where the universal human rights of all individuals are protected.