BURMA: Courts shut down because of protests

The Asian Human Rights Commission has been informed that courts in Burma’s largest city, Rangoon, have stopped operating.

As has been widely reported, protests began in Burma after an increase in fuel prices of two to five times on August 15. Since August 20, all cases going to the ordinary courts around the city have been repeatedly adjourned; lawyers and others asking about the reason have been told that it is because of security. Evidently, the same does not apply to special tribunals inside the prisons, as on September 7 a group of six men were given jail terms of 20 to 28 years for organising a discussion about workers’ rights last May.

What are the consequences of suspending hearings? Obviously, persons are still being arrested for ordinary crimes and misdemeanours. Now, instead of them having their cases heard according to the ordinary criminal procedure, they are being kept in custody for an undefined period of time. This is likely to cause a heavy backlog will take some time for the courts to clear. Additionally, it will lead to many other practical problems. In particular, where are the accused being held? Police cells are likely to become quickly overcrowded, as these are places that can only house small numbers for short periods. And as the police in Burma are known to kill and torture people in their custody with impunity under normal circumstances, overcrowding and postponed hearings will open the door to many more violent incidents in these and coming days.

It is well known that hundreds of protestors held since August 21 have been both taken and detained without any regard to either domestic or international law. Most have been snatched and dragged off the streets by government-organised gangs and members of the police, local councils and other security personnel wearing plain clothes. Some have been held at special interrogation centres; the locations of others remain unknown.

What has not become known is that one of the consequences of their arrests is that a person taken into custody in Rangoon today for any offence at all knows not when he or she may appear before a court or be released. There is also no way for anyone to complain about this state of affairs. In the absence of the courts, which are anyhow already under the complete control of the central authorities, there is nowhere to turn in Burma for any one to obtain a release order if held contrary to the law. Not only the rights of persons detained for participating in demonstrations, but those of everyone else as well, have been violated.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has for some time insisted upon the importance of studying the characteristics and implications of what it has rightly described as Burma’s “injustice system” in order to appreciate how its military rulers degrade all aspects of life and institutions there. Under the current conditions too, ordinary persons have been made the victims of their arbitrary control by the state and its agencies. Yesterday, protest; today, no trial: this is the perverted response of autocrats to any challenge upon their authority. It is this sort of cause and effect that deserves much more attention and analysis in order that the situation in Burma be properly understood and addressed by concerned persons both inside and outside of the country.


Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-221-2007
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Campaigns : Burma Peoples Protests