Tuesday, August 10, 2010

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Interview with legal advisor U Aung Thein

BURMA: Interview with U Aung Thein

In Burma, Is it possible to make complaints if someone is tortured by the police?

Yes it is possible to make complaints. Police beat people during investigations into criminal cases. They investigate the person according to their suspicions, especially outside of Yangon. There have been several cases in which the victim dies as a result of the torture.

If the case is politically related the torture may be extreme. The case of Aung Naing Win proves this. He was a member of the National League for Democracy and was arrested on the suspicion of being involved in the bomb at Basontaung‘s fair and Junction 8 and Dagon Center in Yangon. The police arrested people who had been to Myawaddi and Maesot, the Thai-Burma Boarder. Win was arrested by the Special Departments and died in their custody. His family members were not informed about his death. When the time came to have his body cremated the police tried to give the family 100,000Kyats (100$) saying that it was for the expenses. However, the family did not accept it and tried to prosecute the authorities who had tortured him. The court rejected the case because the family members tried to prosecute them under the Coroners Act. The police, on the other hand said that he died because he had suffered from hepatitis. When the doctor carried out his examination he found that Win's his ribs had been broken to the point where they penetrated his liver. His external injuries showed that he had been seriously injured. His stomach Bio-C result showed that he had, in fact, suffered from Hepatitis B so the doctor ignored the physical injuries and concluded that he died because of this disease.

Another case is that of a human rights defender, Myint Aye. He was arrested along with his friend, Yan Shwe on suspicion of taking part in a bombing near the office of State Peace and Development Council. He was innocent of the crime he was accused of and was only involved in human right work. His friend Yan Shwe had been to Thailand and had been in prison. In custody, the police officer burned his penus in front of Myint Aye saying that his friend would be burned if he did not admit that crime. Myint Aye called one of his friends to come to the station and said that even though he had not done any crime he would sign a confession to prevent the torture of his friend. He was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment.

Another case is that of Than Myint Aung who was accused of a bombing in Sanchaung, in Yangon. He was seriously tortured during the investigations which lasted one month. As he was so seriously tortured during the investigations he was admitted to a mental hospital but the judge did not take that into consideration and he was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment.

In North Okkala, police officers arrested a husband who quarreled with his wife. He died in custody due to torture. His relatives made a complaint about the case but it was not accepted

These are cases that occurred in Yangon. The torture cases outside Yangon are getting worse. For example, if someone dies as a result of torture during an investigation process they will burn the body in order to remove the evidence. At least in Yangon the cases are covered by the media and the family of the torture victims can make complaints. But we have never known how many cases involving torture happen outside of Yangon.

Are there any places to make complaints outside of Yangon?

Where? To the police station again? Human Rights groups and the National League for democracy members and lawyers helped the victims and their families. They documented the cases and then send them into the media. But the military and police help each other; if a soldier kills a person the police cover it up. If the police kill a person, the doctors cover it up.

Do the family members of the victims try to prosecute against the police officers?

They cannot do anything because there is no evidence.
If they arrest someone and he or she is in the hospital as a result of torture, they do the prosecution process after hospitalization. When they prosecute a person they detained that person without remand. I had been always taking care of these kinds of cases before my license was revoked.

Are there many lawyers who can take care of these kinds of cases?

There are few lawyers who dare to take these cases because they are intimidated by the authority. The cases against authorities lead them into troubles. They just want to cooperate with the judges and make money. For me, I never care about that. Even for the Aung Naing Win case, I helped the victim’s family to prosecute the general but the court did not accept it. We even tried to prosecute the general at the Supreme Court but finally the case was close according to the conclusion of the doctor. This was the first case to appear in the media.

Is there anything to add?

In Burma, most of the torture cases are related to politicians and the people who are related to the politics. If the torture victim is a woman they are not allowed to eat nor take a bath during periods. Men are seriously tortured during investigation but we cannot show any evidence about torture before the court despite telling the judge the victim was tortured. As a lawyer, I need legal protection to give legal services to the activists or victims who are related to politics. The police force is a part of executive. When police prosecute someone the judges accept the charge and rule. The judicial system seems like to judge whatever police prosecute. The judicial system is paralysed. The judicial system is not fair. All judges give punishments to any victims that the police prosecute.

(U Aung Thein is a legal advisor ) He was sentenced to 4 months under the pretext of contempt of court) His license to practice was revoked just before he took part in Aung San Suu Kyi's case with Yattaw.


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