BURMA: Two men and a woman are illegally jailed for allegedly getting money from abroad

Former President of National Students Federation

Former President of National Students Federation

KNOWLEDGE                    STRUGGLE                           VICTORY

 
While the government of  Burma was releasing a few wrongly detained
persons from its jails in September, authorities were arresting and
prosecuting more. 

In September the government in Burma released thousands of people from
the prisons. But at the same time other cases were going on in the courts,
including a case against Sein Hlaing, Shwegyoe and Myint Myint Soe
under the Unlawful Associations Act.

The Special Branch police arrested the three detainees back in March
on the grounds that they had received money from someone at a group
based in Thailand – someone who has been prosecuted in absentia.
However the police didn’t have any firm material evidence against the
accused. Instead they held them in custody for almost six months and
allegedly tortured them to extract so-called evidence, which they
presented to the court.

Even then, all that police presented was that about USD15,000 had
supposedly been transferred to the detainees from abroad – not for
political activities but for social welfare. This includes assisting
the families of people who had been imprisoned and transferred to
jails in remote parts of the country, so that the families could visit
and take them food and medicines, which are essential for long-term
survival in the jails of Burma.

When the case finally came to court in September, the lawyers for the
defendants pointed out that their clients had been kept in custody
illegally. Police could give no explanation. The investigating officer
refused to even say where he had interrogated them, on the grounds
that it is ‘secret’ information. Neither could he explain why it had
taken more than five months to lodge a case in the court, even though,
as he acknowledged, the accused should have been brought before a
judge within 24 hours, then kept on remand.

The police could not, or refused to answer other basic questions about
the case, such as the date that it had been opened or who the officer
was who gave the order to start the investigation. They could not give
any details about the person in Thailand who had sent the money, even
though these facts are very important to the trial because he is the
one who allegedly belongs to the unlawful group on which the case
hinges.

I am very disappointed to hear that even while the Government of
Myanmar was authorizing the release of thousands of
prisoners–including many arbitrarily or unlawfully detained
persons–in September 2009, the courts were trying even more persons
for alleged crimes of association, including three persons who
supposedly had contact with a fourth abroad, who has been prosecuted
in absentia.

According to the information that I have received, Sein Hlaing is
accused of receiving money from E Bhar, who is allegedly a member of
the National League for Democracy-Liberated Area (NLD-LA). The money
allegedly came via Shwegyoe from 12 October 2008 to 2 March 2009 and
totaled 15 million Kyat (USD 15,000), some of which Sein Hlaing and
Shwegyoe used for their own expenses and the remainder of which was
transferred to the NLD social aid group. In November Myint San
obtained 1.7 million Kyat (USD 1700) of that money and distributed it
to families of detainees whom the authorities had transferred to
remote prisons, to help them with their expenses for visits and other
affairs.

From these basic facts of the case alone there is no obvious offence,
as any money received was being used for social welfare and not for
political or ‘terrorist’ activities as the police alleged. Furthermore
I have learned that there are a number of glaring violations of the
law in this case, and abuses of the detainees’ fundamental human
rights. In particular,

1. Illegal detention: The first three accused were arrested on 6 March
2009. They were transferred to Insein Central Prison on 13 May 2009.
The case against them opened on 26 August 2009. The charge was finally
lodged only on 10 September 2009. At no time in the period from 6
March to 26 August was there a judicial order to allow for their
detention, in violation of section 61, Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
The accused allege that from 13 March to 12 May the police held them
illegally at the Aungthapyay Interrogation Facility in Mayangone
Township. When asked about this in court Inspector Kyaw Soe first
refused to reveal where interrogations had been held on the ground
that it is a secret, and then said that he didn’t know where the
accused were held. Nor could the police explain why it had taken more
than five months to lodge a case in the court, even though Inspector
Kyaw Soe himself acknowledged in the trial that the accused should
have been brought before a judge within 24 hours and that the ordinary
limit of remand for this case would be one week, whereupon extensions
should be brought. He also could not give basic facts to the court
about dates on which important steps in the criminal process had
occurred, such as the lodging of the First Information Report to
initiate the process.

2. Torture: The detained accused testified in court that during their
six months in detention they were tortured; however the allegations
went unanswered by the police. Inspector Kyaw Soe also refused to say
who had authorized the operation against the accused that led to their
alleged torture.

3. Unproven facts: The police submitted evidence from the
interrogations of the accused as proof of the alleged crime, even
though under section 27 of the Evidence Act, such information does not
constitute proof. They also could not produce any evidence to show
that E Bhar is actually a member of the NLD-LA as they allege, a claim
upon which the entire case against the three detainees rests.
According to Inspector Kyaw Soe, this fact ’emerged’ during
interrogations. However, he could not give any details of the
so-called fact, such as where or on what date E Bhar had become a
member, or concerning his responsibilities in the organisation. Nor
could he give any material evidence on the alleged connections with
the other accused.

Given the obvious flaws and patent violations in this case I ask that
the concerned persons intervene to see that it is dropped immediately.
This included the Attorney General, in accordance with his power under
section 4(b) of the Attorney General Law 2001, ‘withdrawing, if
necessary, any charge, any accused or the whole criminal case filed at
Court’. I also ask that the Ministry for Home Affairs and Myanmar
Police Force conduct inquiries in this case to determine why the
concerned personnel of Special Branch violated provisions of the
Criminal Procedure Code and if it is found that they have also in fact
committed torture as alleged, that criminal charges be brought against
them. In this respect, I note that Myanmar does not have a law to
prohibit torture and has not joined the UN Convention against Torture
and I urge that it does so.

Finally, I take this opportunity to remind the Government of Myanmar
of the need to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross
access to places of detention, in accordance with its globally
recognized mandate, without any further delay.

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