BURMA: A call to all lawyers to defend U Aung Thein and U Khin Maung Shein — two senior Burmese lawyers and human rights defenders illegally sentenced under the pretext of contempt of court

The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to bring to the notice of all lawyers the arrest of two senior lawyers and human rights defenders in Rangoon on November 7, 2008 for submitting a letter to court on behalf of their clients on November 6 in which they have communicated the wish of their clients to withdraw the appearance of the lawyers on their behalf because the clients decided that they did not have confidence in the court. The lawyers have informed their withdrawal to the court orally and the court ordered that it be given in writing. In compliance with the court instructions the lawyers stated the wish of their clients in writing and this was construed as contempt of court and the two of them have been sentenced to a term of four months, rigorous imprisonment.

After the clients withdrew their consent to be represented by the two lawyers they had no authority to represent the clients and it was their duty to inform the court of their withdrawal. There was no basis at all for any contempt of court charges.

There were no charges leveled, inquiry or trial held before the two lawyers were sentenced to four months. In fact they were not even informed of any charges or a trial. The entire process has been without any due process and without respect for the rights of an accused in criminal proceedings.

The two lawyers and several others represent a new interest among some of the lawyers to provide proper legal services to their clients and to go against the well entrenched habits of subservience and intimidation before courts which have been the general characteristics in the Burmese courts due to the extremely repressive actions of the military regime. The military regime expects the courts to be a rubber stamp and also to serve the purpose of intimidating the population.

In recent times there have been many instances in which Burmese citizens have begun to come before their courts to assert their rights and demand justice. There are many recorded instances of such actions in recent months. Kindly see: Vol. 07 – No. 03 September 2008 — Special Edition: Saffron Revolution Imprisoned, law demented, of Article 2 for a 64 page report on many such cases and the system of the denial of justice that prevails in Burma: http://www.article2.org/pdf/v07n03.pdf.

Earlier two other lawyers were sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment for moving court to call the Information Minister and the Director General of Police as witnesses. This was construed as disturbing the court. In that case too there had been no inquiry or trial before such punishment.

The role of the lawyer is essential for the defence of the rights of people. Article 14 of the ICCPR guarantees the right of representation to all accused. For a long time in Burma the independence of the legal profession has been suppressed. Under these circumstances the rights of lawyers need to be considered as a matter of the highest priority in the protection of human rights defenders. It is simply not possible to defend anyone if the legal profession itself is crippled as is happening now in Burma.

We therefore urge you to take up these two cases of U Aung Thein and U Khin Maung Shein, the two senior lawyers who are now serving a sentence of four months in blatant contravention of the protection that is due to them as professional lawyers and human rights defenders.

For further details kindly see the AHRC statement: BURMA: Two rights lawyers imprisoned for contempt of court at http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2008statements/1761/

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-289-2008
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),