Conflicts & War

Myanmar arrests lawyers defending political prisoners: HRW

Bangkok, Jul 2 (EFE).- The Myanmar junta has arrested at least six lawyers representing political prisoners, which is a violation of the right to a fair trial, nonprofit Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Friday.

At least three of the lawyers were arrested while attending court to defend their clients, according to the human rights organization. Others have been arrested at home, on the street, or as they tried to leave the country.

Some have been charged with violating article 505a of the Penal Code, a provision introduced by the junta and which punishes spreading false news or making comments that cause fear or incite crimes against a government employee with up to 3 years in prison.

“The Myanmar junta’s wrongful arrest and prosecution of lawyers sends a chilling message that defending those arrested since the February 1 coup may lead to criminal prosecution,” Linda Lakhdhir, HRW’s Asia legal advisor, said.

Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, attorneys must be able to practice their profession without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference, and should not be subject to civil or criminal penalties for good faith statements made in defense of their clients, HRW said.

The arrest of the attorneys also denies clients the right to be represented by the counsel of their choice and to have a fair trial, it added.

“Arresting defense lawyers makes it abundantly clear that Myanmar’s junta has no interest in providing a fair trial for pro-democracy activists and that justice under military rule is an illusion,” said Lakhdhir, who urged the UN and concerned governments to demand the release of all those arbitrarily arrested after the military coup.

Between Feb. 1 and Thursday, the security forces had detained 6,462 people, of which 5,195 were still in prison, and issued arrest warrants against 1,965, according to the latest data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group.

At least 884 people have been killed as a result of the crackdown by security forces, the AAPP said.

Five months after the military coup, the junta has still not managed to take control of the entire country during this time and protests continue in several regions.

Tired of the little progress made by the peaceful demonstrations, some protesters have formed militias or joined armed ethnic groups in the country to put up armed resistance to the military, while clashes between the armed forces and ethnic guerrillas — who demand greater autonomy for their regions — have intensified in several areas across Myanmar since the coup.

The military has justified the coup alleging fraud in elections held in November, in which ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party repeated its resounding victory of 2015, with international observers backing the polls. EFE


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