Witnesses Barred from Burmese Dissidents’ Trial

Burmese police refuse to summon defense witnesses in the trial of six dissidents, and verdicts are imminent.
2008-10-22
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RANGOON, Burma:  National League for Democracy (NLD) members carrying flags join Buddhist monks marching in protest, 24 September 2007
RANGOON, Burma: National League for Democracy (NLD) members carrying flags join Buddhist monks marching in protest, 24 September 2007
AFP

BANGKOK—A Burmese court is expected to rule on Friday in the trial of six opposition activists after key defense witnesses were barred from testifying, according to one of the defense lawyers.

The defendants—Win Mya Mya, Than Lwin, Kan Tun, Ko Tin Ko, Ko Min Thu, and Ko Win Shwe—are all members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD); Win Mya Mya, who is close to NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was injured when the Nobel Laureate was ambushed at Depayin in 2003.

Defense lawyer Myint Thwin said all six were arrested in September and October 2007, during the monk-led uprising that became known as the Saffron Revolution.

But at the Aung Mye Thazan Township court in Burma’s central city of Mandalay, the prosecution argued the defendants were in fact arrested in September and October 2008, which could result in them spending a longer time in prison.

It is important for them to tell the truth. If they were arrested in 2007, [they should] say so..."

Defense lawyer Myint Thwin

The defendants have been charged with several crimes including threatening national security, Myint Thwin said.

The defense called several supervisors from Mandalay Obo jail where they have been held, along with two police officers, to testify that all six defendants had been jailed for a year or more, Myint Thwin said, but police declined to serve their summonses.

“We also submitted as defense witnesses the prison warden, the prison superintendent, the police commander from the Shwezar Yan police unit, and the police commander from the Paleik police unit to attest that the defendants had been jailed since 2007,” he said.

Police refusal

The court issued their summonses, he said, “but the information unit of the police force, the Special Branch, which is prosecuting this case, took away the papers, said they weren’t in order—and without bringing the witnesses to court, rejected them.”

“They said that the prison warden wasn't around because he had gone to Rangoon, and the prison superintendent was out of town on duty and had work-related meetings to attend. Therefore they couldn’t come to the court.”

Three defense witnesses were allowed to testify before the court according to Myint Thwin: Win Mya Mya’s elder brother and younger sister, and also Ko Tin Ko’s wife.

But defense lawyers Myo Swe, Shwe Hla, and Myint Thwin had to make final arguments on Oct. 20, without testimony from the prison witnesses, he said.

“It is important for them to tell the truth. If they were arrested in 2007, [they should] say so, and say that the case was filed only now,” Myint Thwin said. “They should not do things that will make people lose their trust in them.” Myint Thwin said it is highly unusual for the courts to alter the arrest date and is aware of this happening before only in military tribunals.

Closed trials began last week in the former capital, Rangoon, of 37 political activists and dissidents on a range of charges. Among the defendants are many leaders of the 1988 student uprising against the junta.

Burmese sources said those trials from Hlaing Tharyar and Kamaryut townships jurisdictions are being held inside the notorious Insein prison.

Original reporting by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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