BURMA: AHRC condemns death sentence for torture victim

(Hong Kong, May 10, 2012) The Asian Human Rights Commission has described the verdict of a court in Rangoon, sentencing a torture victim to death for his purported role in a bombing, as “farcical” and a “cut-and-paste” job, and has called for his release through the intervention of outside agencies. 

District Judge Aung Thein presiding over a closed court in the central prison on Tuesday convicted the accused, Phyo Wai Aung, in four cases concerning the bombing of a festival in April 2010. The judge sentenced Phyo Wai Aung to death for abetting the murder of 10 people who died in the bombing, and to a total of 39 years in prison for a range of other offences. 

The AHRC on Thursday morning released an urgent appeal with details of the verdicts: BURMA: Court sentences ailing Phyo Wai Aung to death after patently unjust trial

Speaking after the issuance of the appeal, the director of the Hong Kong-based regional human rights group, Wong Kai Shing, said that the verdicts showed that Burma’s judiciary was clearly set in the authoritarian practices of old and had not been affected behaviourally by recent political changes.

“As the court could reach this farcical verdict only by ignoring legal grounds and instead working on the basis of some orders from elsewhere, we have no choice also but to call for a review of the case and intervention by those authorities with the power to overturn the death sentence, and secure the release of the accused,” Wong said.

The court appeared to have just cut and paste its findings from one verdict to the next across the four cases, repeating the same points with little variation in contents, except as required for the specific elements of each charge, he commented.

“For the sake of his life, the people in positions to be able to get Phyo Wai Aung out of prison need to do something now,” Wong added, pointing to a letter by the brother of the defendant expressing fears about his health due to liver disease, Hepatitis-B and tuberculosis. 

Wong pointed out that the case highlighted the need for legal reform efforts in Burma to concentrate on the heavy reliance on confession in the handing down of guilty verdicts, which encouraged the police to torture clients to agree to give fabricated confessions. 

“The use of confession as the means to obtain a conviction is from our study of the system in Burma very widespread and a cause for serious concern,” Wong observed.

“In this case, the police tortured the accused for six consecutive days to have him agree to give a fabricated confession built around scraps of material and witness testimonies that they could pull together from here and there,” he said. 

“This forced confession constituted the basis for the guilty verdicts,” Wong noted, adding that once a confession was submitted to court it was very difficult for the accused to do anything about it, even if they denied or retracted the confession, as did Phyo Wai Aung.   

The AHRC’s campaign webpage for Phyo Wai Aung contains detailed information on the case and relevant documents in both English and Burmese: http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/burma/phyo-wai-aung

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-014-2012
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Campaigns : Phyo Wai Aung
Issues : Death penalty, Judicial system, Right to fair trial, Torture,