January Month in Review, Chronology and Current Political Prisoners List
MONTH IN REVIEW
In January, 11 people were arrested, two protesters under Penal Code section 153 and 505(b), eight demonstrators under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Protest Act (PAPPA), and one man under both the Flag Law and the PAPPL. Five of the nine protesters arrested under the PAPPA were charged, carried out their 20-day sentences, and were released this month, while three others had their charges dropped. This month, 13 people in total were charged: six under sections 153 and 505(b) of the Penal Code, two under the Privacy Law, four under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Protest Act, and one under both the PAPPA and the Flag Law. Eight people were sentenced, all under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Protest Act. In January, 13 people were released, including five from the New Mon State Party (NMSP), who had been carrying out sentences under Section 17/1 of the Unlawful Associations Act.
Crackdown on Protests
Throughout January, AAPP tracked an increase in the Government’s crackdown on protests for those who dare to use their rights of freedom of assembly when it explicitly goes against Government policies or actions. For instance, on January 12 the court sentenced five Karenni youth to 20 days in prison for leading a permit-less protest in December 2017 on the Military’s alleged murder of a civilian and three KNPP soldiers. Permit-less protests violate Section 19 of the vaguely worded Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act (PAPPA or Act). They were released on January 24 after serving their sentences. In an attempt to further silence the voices of the protesters and stifle freedom of expression, authorities banned groups from sharing information on the five at a Karenni National Day celebration. Finally, in another effort to revoke protesters’ rights in Karenni State, police arrested and subsequently released three men who were detained after leading a January 5 protest against the prosecution of the abovementioned youth. At the time of arrest, they too faced charges under Section 19 of the PAPPA. These arrests and sentences are in conflict with rights protected under the Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), citing Article 19 the right to freely disseminate information, and Article 20 of the UDHR and Article 21 of the ICCPR, the right to peaceful assembly. As a United Nations (UN) member state, Burma is obligated to comply with these international standards. Further, it is disturbing that authorities continue to be quick to arrest and suppress people’s voices when it concerns the Military and their alleged dealings with citizens, which harms the peace process and national reconciliation efforts in Burma. The law is being used to suppress the voices of activists and political dissidents, and erodes faith in the judiciary, as well as the Government. AAPP urges authorities to stop arresting and charging individuals under Section 19 of the PAPPA due to its vague wording and urges the Government to re-evaluate the Act as it continues to lead to countless arrests, and only allows protests after permission is granted. In order to move toward a new era in Burma’s democracy, the PAPPA must be rewritten to ensure civil and political rights are able to be realized throughout the country without fear of prosecution.
In addition to suppressing protesters’ right to assemble in Karenni State, authorities fatally cracked down on a protest that turned violent in Mrauk-U, northern Arakan State on January 16, leading to seven civilian deaths and 12 injured. In connection to this, five youth have been fined 30,000 kyat (US$22.50) each under Section 19 of the PAPPA due to holding a response protest to on January 17 without first seeking approval from authorities. Their charges show the great flaw within the PAPPA, because citizens must be allowed to peacefully react to events in a timely fashion, and the strict stipulations in
this law prevents individuals from doing this. AAPP strongly urges the Government to amend this law so that it is not used to the detriment of citizens carrying out rights found in international instruments.
In addition to these troubling charges, authorities are currently investigating eight youth, who sustained injuries during the protest, and are being detained in the hospital’s prisoner wing, violating their ICCPR and UDHR right to freedom of movement (Articles 12 and 13, respectively), and is essentially a form of pre-trial detention. The youths had their hands and legs cuffed while being treated for injuries, which is not only a violation of healthcare rights, but also violates their right to dignity, and contravenes stipulations found in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs). AAPP calls on the Government to enforce international standards for arrests, and ensure that, as stated in the UDHR, ICCPR, and SMRs their dignity is respected in all interactions (Article 1 UDHR, Article 10 ICCPR, and SMR 60).
“AAPP condemns the Governments for the handling of this event, especially in light of how and why the NLD came into existence… following the historic student protests, now known as 8888.”
This month, students held their first protest since the instatement of the NLD Government. Led by the All Burma Federation of Students’ Union (ABFSU), they protested for a raise to the education budget, as well as the construction of school buildings and more adequate teaching materials. The Defense Department’s request for a budget increase, which is already larger than the education budget and health budgets combined, sparked the protest. After threatening a hunger strike if demands were not met, authorities briefly detained 72 students on January 25. Since their release, 36 students have been expelled for offenses such as breaching codes of conduct, misbehaving in classrooms, and disobeying teachers. The students’ dismissal has triggered response protests at a university Sagaing Division. It is distressing that university officials have ended the academic careers for students taking part in protests, a right that is protected under international instruments, and must be allowed in institutions of higher education where freedom of thought, opinion and assembly should be celebrated. The Government must be willing to work with students on a compromise to provide the teaching materials and facilities for Burmese universities to be competitive on the international level, which will help grow the country’s working force, and GDP. AAPP condemns the Government for the handling of this event, especially in light of how and why the NLD came into existence – due to the historic student protests in 1988, now known at the 8888 uprising, of which many NLD members participated. AAPP commends the students for exercising their rights and urges officials to work toward a compromise that helps Burmese students meet their potential.
Closing Space for Freedom of Expression
In January, AAPP continued to monitor cases that restrict freedom of expression. Unfortunately, multiple cases that erode these rights arose throughout the month. Reuters Journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were officially charged under the Official Secrets Act on January 10 and continue to be detained awaiting sentencing despite international uproar from the UN, foreign governments, and civil society organizations (CSOs), including AAPP. As stated in last month’s chronology, their arrest, and detention are incompatible under international instruments, citing protection from arbitrary arrest and detention, and freedom of expression, in Articles 9 and 19(2) of the ICCPR, respectively. Further, the act of arresting and formally charging journalists damages the country’s democratic transition and destroys trust in the Courts as press freedom and freedom of the judiciary are pillars to democracy. AAPP reiterates the call for their charges to be immediately dropped and for their unconditional release.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were not the only journalists facing restrictions in January. Journalists covering an ongoing high-profile arms case were denied entry to the trial. According to Section 4(d) of the 2014 News Media Law, as well as the Supreme Court’s handbook for the media, journalists are given access to courts and legally allowed to cover cases. Although they had previously registered with the Court and were given access cards, they were prevented from doing their jobs, which violates international instruments as well as Burma’s domestic law. These types of restrictions fall within the larger context of journalists in Chin and Shan states being unable to get access to the Parliament and judiciary, making it unreasonably difficult to report on matters of local and national interest. AAPP urges the authorities to give journalists unrestricted access to Parliamentary sessions and court hearings, which is in line with domestic law, and a right protected by Article 19 of the ICCPR. Journalists must be allowed to receive and impart correct information in a timely fashion to encourage a free flow of information in the country. In Burma’s 2017 Freedom of the Press score, Freedom House classified Burma as a society without a free press, AAPP agrees with Freedom House in that this trend of arresting journalists is a primary reason why.
In addition to the troubling trends facing journalists, individuals continued to be suppressed through Burma’s stringent defamation laws. However, a worrying trend of filing charges under the Privacy Law has started to emerge. Enacted in March 2017, the law protects the privacy and personal security of citizens. However, Section 8(f) includes a clause that criminalizes harm to reputation, and the law has quickly deteriorated into a tool to prosecute critics. In January, two cases were filed under section 8(f) and one case under Section 10 (which refers to Section 8) of the law. In Mon State, a man was sued by a member of the Mon State Ethnic Affairs Committee for Facebook posts criticizing the Mon State Chief Minister, Aye Zaw. If charged, he could be incarcerated for upto three years, and fined up to 1,500,000 kyats (US$1,100). In Magway Township, a man was sued for publishing critical Facebook posts in July and November 2017 about the City Development Committee. Finally, in the U Ko Ni murder trial one of the defendants will sue the prosecution’s lawyers under this law for statements they made about him in a January 12 hearing. Previously, defamation charges were brought under or Section 505 of the Penal Code, or the flawed Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act, which, thus far, has had a 100 percent conviction rate. It is too early to tell if these new suits are part of a larger shift in filing charges, but, if it is, this shows the Government is adapting its methods of control due to the international outcry that has taken place regarding Section 66(d). AAPP urges the Government to decriminalize defamation and ensure that individuals are not charged with defamation for simply questioning the Government, a right they have as part of a democratic society.
On January 15, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) investigated Pyay and Paungde Prisons, police stations to assess whether the prison was in line with international human rights standards. They found that the prison has many issues with sanitation. According to MNHRC Commissioner, Yu Lwin Aung, if prisoners fight with each other, other prisoners from the different cells, who are appointed to manage prisoners, beat them. To prevent the violations of prisoner rights, prison authorities must address this issue immediately. In the days following charges to the Reuters Journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, as well as the arrests of those associated with the Mrauk-U events, the Global New Light of Myanmar published opinion pieces explaining the necessity of the laws
under which they were arrested. The laws analyzed included the 1923 Official Secrets Act, Penal Code 121 (High Treason), and Unlawful Associations Act. These published pieces not only served as a harrowing reminder that those who critique the Government will be prosecuted, but also raised concerns about the independence of the judiciary from the executive branch. As the NLD’s 2016 victory supposedly ushered in a new democratic wave in Burma’s political history, AAPP urges the party to remain independent from the courts as the judiciary is the only branch with the power and mandate to interpret the application of laws.
In addition to this, AAPP observed how the new Youth Rights Policy the Government enacted this month runs counter to cases that have recently been tried in the Courts. Burma’s youth population makes up more than a third of the country’s population and helped draft a policy focused on issues related to youth education, health, drug use, job opportunities, economics, political research, literature, arts, and culture. Following the release of this policy, 133 civil society organizations issued a statement on youth arrests throughout 2017, including recent cases of Karenni youth, and Reuters journalists. In addition to these cases, in January, the judge presiding over the trial of former child soldier, Aung Ko Htwe, decided the case would continue, despite calls for its dismissal. Further, in January, a handful of university students were on the receiving end of harsh Government laws against peaceful protests by being expelled from school [see Crackdown on Protests section]. These cases highlight ways that Burma’s legal system has actually been very harsh on Burma’s youth. AAPP stands with youth activists and journalists who are fighting for a democratic society in Burma and have been prosecuted for their beliefs and activism. AAPP additionally reminds the Government that enacting a youth policy must be followed up by action that protects the rights of all youth – even those who are incarcerated.
Prison and Government Reforms
Prison reform continues to be a necessity to bring Burmese prisons up to international standards. On January 15, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) investigated Pyay and Paungde Prisons, police stations to assess whether the prison was in line with international human rights standards. They found that the prison has many issues with sanitation. According to MNHRC Commissioner, Yu Lwin Aung, if prisoners fight with each other, other prisoners from the different cells, who are appointed to manage prisoners, beat them. To prevent the violations of prisoner rights, prison authorities must address this issue immediately. The MNHRC further stated overcrowding is a major issue and is a human rights violation. There are many ways Burma’s prison conditions, and overcrowding specifically, are in violation of international law. According to Principle 5 of the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, all prisoners are afforded rights listed in the UDHR, ICCPR, and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), unless directly contrary to liberties revoked as prisoners. Under Article 11 of the ICESCR, the Government must provide adequate food, clothing, and housing to those within its borders. As Burma has ratified this Covenant, it is bound by its Articles. Adequate food, clothing, and housing are not revocable rights for those incarcerated as it is a public health issue, and the lack of adequate bathing and bedding facilities are violations of SMR 9 and 13. Further, according to the UN Human Rights Council, overcrowding is a form of torture. The report concludes with a few ways the Corrections Department can address these issues by reforming ‘easy to fix’ areas, such as using pre-trial detention only as a last resort and lowering disproportionate drug charges. Many of these reforms, however, may not be carried out, as prison reform is sadly, not a legislative priority for the ruling NLD. Although the NLD granted hundreds of amnesties within hours of victory, and is a party made up of many former political prisoners, its policies have not been reflective of this. Under the NLD there has been a spike in imprisoning journalists and activists. AAPP commends the MNHRC for reporting on these issues but urges the MNHRC to monitor and intervene when necessary in order to ensure changes are made and that rights are not violated. Further, AAPP implores the Government to follow through on legislative promises and adhere to obligations under international law.
On January 19, A military court in Mansi Township, Kachin State, sentenced six soldiers to 10 years in prison for the killing of three Kachin men from Maihkawng Camp in May 2017. Relatives of the victims and a few local civil society representatives were invited to the military court for the sentencing. This is the first time in six years, civilians have been invited to observe a military court session. AAPP commends this sentencing and urges the government to sign Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) to end all forms of torture.
In January, an International Court of Justice (ICJ) report found that the Government must act to counteract decades of Military impunity for human rights violations. Due to provisions in the 2008 Constitution, the 1959 Defence Services Act and the 1995 Police Force Maintenance of Discipline Law, the Military are rarely held accountable for rights violations. The report calls on the Government to address issues of impunity and help restore justice and the rule of law for individual victims, rights defenders, and journalists. Constitutional reform is a necessary first step to address this impunity and create a true democracy. AAPP calls on the Government to push forward the reconciliation process, and move Burma toward a true democratic society.
For more Information contact:
Ko Tate Naing Secretary +95(0) 94280 23828
Ko Bo Kyi Joint Secretary +66(0) 81 9628 713
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