UPDATE (Burma): Villagers released from detention in forced labour case


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-64-2004
ISSUES: Labour rights,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the Burma Lawyers’ Council (Thailand) and Yoma-3 news service that U Ohn Myint and Ko Khin Zaw, the two villagers jailed for criminal defamation after they had attempted to take complaints of forced labour to the courts, have been released. 

According to the information received, U Ohn Myint and Ko Khin Zaw were released from Henzada Prison, where they had been kept in solitary confinement since October 7, after two military intelligence officers came and paid the 10,000 Kyat (US$10) fines that had been imposed on each of them. The men had been given a choice between the fines or six-month jail terms; in defiance of the local authorities, they had chosen jail. 

The AHRC had written to the UN Special Representative for human rights defenders, Ms Hina Jilani, asking her to intervene in the case. The International Labour Office in Rangoon was also closely involved in the case, and had protested to the government about the treatment of the two men. 

According to sources close to the case, the men insist that they did not pay the fines, and nor did they wish for the fines to be paid as they went to jail as a matter of conscience. It is understood that two officers from Military Intelligence No. 4 were responsible for paying the fines at the court, and then instructing that the men be released. This is the first time that such an incident has ever been reported.  

U Ohn Myint is now understood to be in the capital, Rangoon. Ko Khin Zaw has returned to their village, in Henzada township, Irrawaddy Division. 

To review the background to the case and its developments, please read the original urgent appeal and updates: UA-112-2004UP-50-2004UP-51-2004, UP-55-2004 & UP-60-2004. 

The AHRC thanks you all for your support in this case, and reminds you that a number of similar cases are pending before the courts in Burma. These include the case of U Mya Sein, from the same village as U Ohn Myint and Ko Khin Zaw (UP-50-2004), and Ma Su Su Nwe, whose case was also detailed in the original appeal (UA-112-2004). The dates for hearings in Ma Su Su Nwe’s case have not yet been fixed, and the authorities appear to be uncertain of how to proceed with it, in light of the amount of attention that has been brought to the other related cases. Readers may also recall that a Supreme Court lawyer is handling the case of U Mya Sein, whereas the two men released in the above-mentioned case had no legal representation: thus, his chances of success are also higher. 

The AHRC has good evidence that your actions on these appeals are having a strong effect on the authorities in Burma, and urges you to continue writing, and raising the cases in your local forums. Please also remember to send letters appealing the case of Ma San San Aye and Ma Aye Mi San, about whom nothing has been heard since they were sentenced to four years’ hard labour for complaining that they had been raped by a local official (UA-40-2004).

Thank you. 

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : UP-64-2004
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Issues : Labour rights,