BURMA: Woman imprisoned after one-day trial for having some T-shirts

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-116-2009

11 September 2009
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BURMA: Woman imprisoned after one-day trial for having some T-shirts

ISSUES: Rule of law; military government; judicial system; illegal detention
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has obtained information on another recent case of gross injustice and denial of fundamental rights in Burma, this time arising from possession of some T-shirts. Police arrested Ma Mar Mar Aye at her house in August after misleading her into thinking that she would come back home after a short time. They searched the house without a warrant. She was tried without having a lawyer or opportunity to speak. The charge and conviction against her also had no relevance to her supposed offence.

CASE DETAILS:

On 15 August 2009 two police officers came in plain clothes to the house of 46-year-old Ma Mar Mar Aye in Pegu and asked her to go with them. They indicated that she wouldn’t need to take anything with her and that she would be coming back the same day. Not only did she not come back, but also the next morning, the police came again to her house and searched it. In the search, they seized four T-shirts that had been made for the campaign to oppose the new army-arranged constitution, which was passed in 2008, and two T-shirts with the image of democracy party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. They also seized copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but later returned these.

Neither the arrest of Mar Mar Aye nor search of her house was done with a warrant or according to any other procedures under law.

On August 17, without informing her family, the police lodged a charge against Mar Mar Aye for allegedly causing fear and alarm to the public. When the charge was read, Mar Mar Aye fainted in court and had to be taken to hospital for treatment before being transferred to prison.

On August 26 the trial was held and two days later the judge sentenced her to two years’ imprisonment. Mar Mar Aye was not represented in court, and according to someone who was present she was not permitted to speak. On the date of sentencing armed police were reportedly stationed outside the court to prevent members of the public from entering.

The trial as well as procedure of arrest was completely in violation of Burma’s domestic laws, to say nothing of international standards. Furthermore, the charge against Mar Mar Aye, which is often used in cases where police have no other offence available (see most recently the similar case of Aung Aung Oo and three others, AHRC-UAC-107-2009) is completely without basis because keeping some T-shirts at home is not a public act and therefore is irrelevant to this section of law.

Mar Mar Aye is reported to suffer heart disease and arthritis, and is said to have lost weight even in the short time that she has been incarcerated to date. It is normal for detainees in Burma to experience considerably worsening health while in prison, particularly if already in fragile condition when they are interred, and many have died from illnesses and complications while still in jail.

Further details of the case are provided in the sample letter below, as usual. BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

The AHRC has been documenting numerous cases speaking to what it has described as Burma’s “injustice system” and provided a range of links on these in the recent prior urgent appeal on Aung Aung Oo and his fellow defendants: AHRC-UAC-107-2009. See also the recent appeal on the case of detained monk U Sandadhika: AHRC-UAC-110-2009. Two special reports have also been issued in the article 2 periodical, “Saffron Revolution imprisoned, law denied” (vol. 7, no. 3, September 2008) and “Burma, political psychosis and legal dementia” (vol. 6, no. 5-6, December 2007). There are also a number of related sites, including the AHRC Burmese-language blog, Pyithu Hittaing, and the 2008 AHRC Human Rights Report chapter on Burma.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the persons listed below to call for the release of Mar Mar Aye. Please note that for the purpose of the letter, the country should be referred to by its official title of Myanmar, rather than Burma, and Bago rather than Pegu.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Myanmar and the independence of judges and lawyers, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the regional human rights office for Southeast Asia calling for interventions into this case.

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

MYANMAR: Woman imprisoned for possession of T-shirts after unfair trial

Details of accused: Ma Mar Mar Aye, 46, National ID No. 7/KaPaTa(Naing)004130, resident of Hsettainggone Ward, Kyopinkauk Township, Bago Division, Myanmar
Date of arrest: 15 August 2009
Police officers involved:
1. Deputy Inspector Soe Kyaw
2. Female Constable Ni Ni Mar
3. Police Captain U Htun Kyi
4. Police Sergeant Thein Lwin (station clerk)
(All from Kyopinkauk Township Police Station)
Charge & trial: Penal Code section 505(b); Kyopinkauk Township Court, Judge Mya Thein presiding, charges lodged on 17 August 2009, case heard on August 26, defendant sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment on August 28

I am greatly disturbed to hear of another case of illegal arrest followed by an unfair trial under an ambiguous charge resulting in a prison term for a Myanmar citizen.

From what I have learned, on 15 August 2009 the first two police officers identified above acting on instructions from the chairman of the Kyopinkauk Township Peace and Development Council came in plain clothes to the house of Ma Mar Mar Aye and asked her to go with them. When Mar Mar Aye asked if she needed to take clothes with her (to wear in detention), they said that they would have her back home by about 4pm; however, she did not return home that day. The police had no warrant of arrest and deliberately gave a false impression that they were just taking the accused for questioning.

At 11am on August 16 the police searched Mar Mar Aye’s house and seized three T-shirts with the word “NO” (to vote No for the new constitution, which was passed in 2008); one T-shirt with an X on it (meaning as above); two T-shirts with the picture of detained democracy party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on them; and, 15 copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (On August 20 the copies of the declaration were returned.) Again, they had no search warrant and they did not have witnesses to the search as required by law.

On August 17, without informing the family the police lodged a charge against Mar Mar Aye for allegedly causing fear and alarm to the public. On August 26 the trial was held and two days later the judge sentenced her to two years’ imprisonment. Mar Mar Aye was not represented in court and according to someone who was present she was not permitted to speak, in violation of the Judiciary Law 2000, section 2(f) that in all cases the right of defence be guaranteed. On the date of sentencing armed police were reportedly stationed outside the court to prevent members of the public from entering.

I am greatly concerned that this is another case in Myanmar where a person who has committed no offence but against whom the authorities are keen to produce some sort of charge has found herself imprisoned in a patently illegal process of arrest and trial. I am aware that aside from the breaches of procedure from the time of arrest to imprisonment, there is nothing in having some T-shirts at one’s house to constitute an offence under section 505(b).

Accordingly, I urge that the Attorney General at once order a review of this case as per section 4(b) of the Attorney General Law 2001, and for the Minister of Home Affairs and Director General of Police also to look into the matter with a view both to seeing that the unfairly and illegally imprisoned accused is released and also that disciplinary action is taken against the officers concerned with the handling of the case in a manner contrary to law.

I note that Mar Mar Aye is reported to suffer from heart disease and arthritis and that she has already lost weight during the short time that she has been detained. I urge the prisons authorities concerned to ensure that all necessary steps be taken to ensure that her condition does not deteriorate during her incarceration. In this regard, I also 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.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Maj-Gen. Maung Oo
Minister for Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663
Fax: +95 67 412 439

2. Lt-Gen. Thein Sein
Prime Minister
c/o Ministry of Defence
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR
Tel: + 95 1 372 681
Fax: + 95 1 652 624

3. U Aung Toe
Chief Justice
Office of the Supreme Court
Office No. 24
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR
Tel: + 95 67 404 080/ 071/ 078/ 067 or + 95 1 372 145
Fax: + 95 67 404 059

4. U Aye Maung
Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
Office No. 25
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR
Tel: +95 67 404 088/ 090/ 092/ 094/ 097
Fax: +95 67 404 146/ 106

5. Brig-Gen. Khin Yi
Director General
Myanmar Police Force
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Naypyitaw
MYANMAR
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663
Fax: +951 549 663 / 549 208

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (ua@ahrc.asia)

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