Myanmar military targeting lawyers as conflict intensifies

As the conflict within Myanmar continues to intensify, the military has now turned its focus to targeting lawyers in its bid to consolidate control over the country and suppress anti-junta voices.

ANI | Naypyitaw | Updated: 28-06-2021 14:51 IST | Created: 28-06-2021 14:51 IST
Myanmar military targeting lawyers as conflict intensifies
Anti-military protests in Myanmar (Credit: Reuters). Image Credit: ANI
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As the conflict within Myanmar continues to intensify, the military has now turned its focus to targeting lawyers in its bid to consolidate control over the country and suppress anti-junta voices. Al Jazeera reported that at least five lawyers have been arrested across the country in the past month for defending politicians and activists.

Thein Hlaing Tun, the lawyer for deposed Naypyidaw Council chairman Myo Aung, a co-defendant of Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested on May 24 and charged under section 505A, an incitement charge that carries a three-year prison sentence and has emerged as the favourite tool of the generals. Khin Maung Zaw, the head of Aung San Suu Kyi's defence team, said that the situation has become "very very difficult" due to the danger of "being harassed or arrested" and internal disagreements about how to proceed in a skewed legal system.

Soon after, on May 28, a lawyer from Ayeyarwady Region was arrested during a trial while defending a political dissident and charged under section 505A. Lawyer Thet Tun Oo, who was reportedly representing more than 100 political prisoners including detained members of the Kachin state government, was arrested on June 2.

Thet's colleagues told Al Jazeera that the arrest has escalated the climate of fear that already existed. "After he was arrested, we went into hiding places, but we are also still trying to continue defending the cases," she said. She added that uniformed police often photograph and videotape lawyers going to defend cases in an intimidating manner, and female lawyers have become too afraid to go into court alone.

"We know that we could be arrested, but I can't avoid that. Because if we stop doing this, who will defend these cases?" she said. On June 12, two lawyers were arrested in Kayin state while attempting to cross the border into Thailand, after finding out they were wanted by the military. Both have been charged under section 505A.

"We feel like there isn't any rule of law. If the lawyers were arrested like that, we should have a chance to meet and see them. Now, no one can protect us, even the law can't protect our rights," a close friend of both lawyers told Al Jazeera. Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said the targeting of lawyers might also cut off a vital source of information about other detained prisoners.

"Restricting this relationship with clients through intimidation of lawyers will also mean there is less information coming from the prisons about what is happening to people inside," he said. Furthermore, the deputy chairman of the Naypyidaw Council was able to reveal through his lawyer last week that he suffered a broken rib during interrogations.

"Arresting lawyers, and interrogating them about their activities and their clients, will ensure that no one wants to provide legal counsel to activists - which is probably the real intent of the junta's actions here," Robertson said, warning that "no real justice" will be found as long as the judicial system is "under the thumb of the military". Citing a law student, Al Jazeera reported that the pressure on lawyers is also making people in the legal community furious and motivated to fight an "unfair and unjust system".

"Our generation should and must be the last one to experience a coup," she said. Since the February military coup in Myanmar that ousted the democratically elected government led by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who turned 76 on Saturday, she and other prominent politicians have been detained and hundreds of civilians have been killed by security forces.

As of Sunday, 883 people had been killed by the military junta since the coup, with around 5,100 others in detention, according to the AAPP. (ANI)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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