BURMA: Rights lawyer's passport confiscated, AHRC writes to govt
(Hong Kong, August 23, 2012) The Asian Human Rights Commission on Thursday wrote to the government of Burma calling for a human rights lawyer to have his confiscated passport returned.
In a letter to home affairs minister U Hla Min, the AHRC executive director Wong Kai Shing said that U Aung Thein had had his license confiscated at the airport on return from a meeting in Hong Kong at the end of July.
"We are forced to conclude, in the absence of any evidence to suggest otherwise, that the confiscation of U Aung Thein’s passport is somehow a consequence of his trip to Hong Kong to attend a programme on the elimination of torture and ill treatment in Asia," Wong said.
In July, Aung Thein had attended a meeting of the Asian Alliance on the Elimination of Torture and Ill Treatment. The meeting had brought together parliamentarians and professionals concerned by the incidence of torture and ill treatment in their countries.
"We are very disappointed that this type of reprisal action would be undertaken at a time that the Government of Myanmar is expressing its concern to democratize and cooperate with members of civil society, rather than penalize them for their initiative as was the case in the past," he added, referring to the country by its official title.
The Hong Kong-based regional rights group's director said that no conditions should be affixed to the rights lawyer's passport, and that he should be allowed to travel in and out of the country without being harassed.
"We urge that the passport be restored to U Aung Thein without delay," Wong concluded.
The AHRC has sent copies of the letter to the United Nations experts on human rights in Burma and on human rights defenders.
Aung Thein said that he was confused about why his passport was confiscated following his attendance at the event, but that its larger implications were clear.
"Banning my passport indicates that human rights defenders are discriminated [against] in Myanmar," Aung Thein said.
Aung Thein had used the trip to Hong Kong and an earlier trip to Thailand to get medical examinations. He had been called to Bangkok for another examination in August, but was unable to attend due to the confiscation of his passport.
"This kind of petty action of taking away a person's passport is indicative, unfortunately, not of any type of democratic change but of continued bullying authoritarian practices on the part of the authorities in Burma," Basil Fernando, the AHRC's director of policy and programmes, said.
"On the one hand the authorities are returning some lawyers' licences and doing various other things to show that times have changed, while on the other we have these same old power games, the same old mind games that are aimed at causing physical and mental stress to people apparently for no other reason than that they have done something that somebody with power doesn't like," Fernando said.
"It's quite pathetic and we hope that Burmese officials will get over this sort of nonsense and instead provide opportunities to people like Aung Thein to do their much needed work," he added.
Aung Thein is one of the most prominent human rights lawyers in Burma. He has taken many high profile cases since the 1990s, and is one of the convenors of a new network of lawyers working on rights and social justice issues.
In 2008 Aung Thein was jailed for contempt of court while he was handling over a hundred cases related to the antigovernment protests the year before. The AHRC established a campaign webpage for him and another lawyer: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/burma-lawyers/
After his release, Aung Thein's licence was revoked. The AHRC has in the last year conducted a campaign for the rights of lawyers in Burma who had lost their licences for political reasons, including Aung Thein: http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/burma/disbarred-lawyers
Over the last couple of months, some lawyers have had licences restored, although Aung Thein is not among them. The AHRC has called for the return of all licences promptly and without conditions attached: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/press-releases/AHRC-PRL-026-2012