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September 21, 2003 

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Denial of justice in Myanmar

The most recent crackdown on members and supporters of the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar (Burma) highlights the systemic denial of justice for political activists in the country.

More than 250 people, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, have been detained or are missing since a violent attack on the NLD on 30 May 2003. Many have been held incommunicado for more than two months without charge or trial. Some have reportedly been tortured, and many have been injured. They are apparently held because of their peaceful political activities.

Such violations of the most basic human rights are not unusual in Myanmar. People are often arrested in the middle of the night and taken, with head hooded, to an unknown location. They are then deprived of sleep, food and water, interrogated for long periods, and threatened or beaten by members of the state Military Intelligence.

Prisoners are frequently deprived of any outside contact before being brought to trial - if they are brought to court at all. The authorities can order people to be held for up to five years without any appeal to the courts, and with no charge and no trial. Those brought to trial may not know what charges have been brought against them or even that their trial is taking place until they arrive at it. Trials are frequently held in secret, and prisoners are usually denied their right to a lawyer or to call or question witnesses. Complaints of torture to the judge are usually ignored. Often prisoners are not allowed to see the judgement against them and are unable to appeal.

And for what "crimes" does this happen? People have been charged with spreading, or intending to spread "false rumours" for telling jokes, writing poems, being a member of a dissenting political organisation, or having contact with one; organising peaceful demonstrations; trying to pass on information about human rights violations; even wearing the colour yellow (the colour of the NLD).

The vague wording of some laws gives the authorities sweeping powers to curtail freedom of expression, assembly and association, and to detain peaceful critics. The authorities can repeatedly detain people for up to five years with no trial, charge, or right to appeal. Poor prison conditions and inadequate medical care mean that many prisoners have serious health problems.

More than 1,300 political prisoners, including monks, students, lawyers, teachers, writers, shopkeepers, political activists, are currently detained in Myanmar. They are held under laws that breach international human rights standards, and denied the protection of those safeguards that exist in Myanmar's legal system.

Source: Amnesty International.


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