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BURMA: A human rights defender jailed for helping farmers over land disputes with officials 16.11.

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BURMA: A human rights defender jailed for helping farmers
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Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-156-2009
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13 November 2009
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ISSUES: Rule of law; judicial system; human rights defenders
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Version Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received details of a new case
brought against a human rights defender who has for some years worked to support the
land rights of farmers in Burma. U Aye Myint, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment
this September on a spurious charge of threatening to injure a public servant.

CASE DETAILS:

According to the forestry department in Aunglan, upper Burma, U Aye Myint threatened a
forest manager on 11 and 14 August 2009, saying that he would have him and other officials
sacked for having lodged a criminal complaint against two villagers after they had cut
eucalyptus plantations in a reserve area in order to make charcoal. In reality, the so-called
reserve was previously the farmers' land but officials had allegedly confiscated it from them and
then charged them with destroying public property when they had encroached.

Although the case against Aye Myint was completely without evidence and brought on the
hearsay of one forestry officer, the presiding judge on September 24 convicted him to two
years' imprisonment. During the trial, defence witnesses said that no such event occurred, but
the judge said that the defence witnesses had not been able to show that the accused had not
said the things of which he was accused, even though it is up to the prosecution, not the
defence, to prove the case.

The real reason that Aye Myint was convicted and imprisoned is that he has been fighting for
the rights of local farmers and there are a number of cases that have been going through the
courts in which he has been active. These include the case against 13 farmers in a nearby
village who were arrested over the authorities' confiscation of some 2000 acres of land for a
sugarcane plantation in 1993: the International Labour Organisation and ministerial officials
investigated the case and some parcels of land, but these farmers were still fighting for over a
hundred acres. They were convicted of trespassing and causing damage in October, and
sentenced for periods of up to five years in jail.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:
U Aye Myint worked closely with Ko Zaw Htay, who was earlier this year sentenced to ten
years for taking video footage of army-confiscated land; his lawyer, U Phoe Phyu, was also
imprisoned for four years on a charge of having contact with unlawful associations: AHRC-
UAC-009-2009.

Aye Myint’s namesake, a lawyer also named U Aye Myint, was previously imprisoned for
helping farmers in Aunglan to fight against forced labour and report cases to the International
Labour Organisation, which has an office in Burma under agreement with the government. He
was released in 2006 after nearly a year in jail, and after strong interventions from the ILO;

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BURMA: A human rights defender jailed for helping farmers over land disputes with officials 16.11.09 17:02

however, his licence to practice law was revoked (AHRC UP-139-2006).

For other cases on Burma, go to the appeals homepage and type "Burma" or "Myanmar" into
the search box: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/. 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 immediate release of U Aye Myint.
Please note that for the purposes of the letter Burma is referred to by its official name,
Myanmar.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters 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: Rights defender jailed for helping villagers over land disputes with officials

Details of accused:
U Aye Myint, deputy chairman, National League for Democracy (NLD), resident of Seyone
Ward, Aunglan Township, Magwe Division, Myanmar; detained at Thayet Prison, Magwe
Key officials involved:
1. U Aung San, officer, Forestry Department, Aunglan Township (complainant)
2. U Hpone Aung, forest manager, Forestry Department, Aunglan Township
Charge & trial: Threat of injury to public servant, section 189, Penal Code; Felony No. 428/09,
Aunglan Township Court, Judge Win Myint presiding, sentence of two years' imprisonment on
24 September 2009

I am disturbed to hear that a human rights defender who has for some years worked to support
the land rights of farmers in Myanmar has been imprisoned for a second time on spurious
grounds.

According to the information that I have received, the forestry department staff accused U Aye
Myint of threatening a forest manager, U Hpone Aung, on 11 and 14 August 2009 after U Aung
San, another official, had made a criminal complaint against local villagers, whom he accused
of cutting eucalyptus plantations in the Bwegyi Reserve in order to make charcoal. In fact, the
officials had allegedly confiscated the "reserve" land from farmer U Nyan Myint and his son, Ko
Thura Aung, and had charged them with destroying public property after they had gone to work
in the area like before.

During the trial, the witnesses for the prosecution said that they had seen Aye Myint berate
Hpone Aung at a teashop on those two dates, saying that he had firm evidence to support the
accused villagers and that he would get all the officials sacked, and later angrily asking if the
officials had a plot to get the villagers arrested, warning them to release the accused in another
case. The witnesses for the defence said that no such events had occurred.

Although the case against Aye Myint was based on the say-so of some government officials
and people whom they had brought to the court as witnesses, Judge Win Myint sentenced him
to prison. In giving his decision, the judge said that the defence witnesses had not been able to
show that the accused had not said the things of which he was accused, but this is not the job
of the defence: it is up to the prosecution to prove the case.

Even if Aye Myint had said the things of which forestry officials accused him, there is nothing in
any of these to bring a charge under section 189, which requires a clear threat of injury that

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BURMA: A human rights defender jailed for helping farmers over land disputes with officials 16.11.09 17:02

was absent from the statements that witnesses gave to the court.

From what I understand of the case, the real reason that Aye Myint was convicted and
imprisoned is that he has been fighting for the rights of local farmers, including in the case
against U Than Soe and 11 other farmers in Sankale village who were arrested over the
authorities' confiscation of some 2000 acres of land for a sugarcane plantation in 1993: the
International Labour Organisation and ministerial officials investigated this case, and some of
the land was returned, but the farmers of Sankale were still fighting for over a hundred acres.
The authorities charged them with criminal trespass and causing damage to property and the
same judge, Win Myint, sentenced them variously from three months to five years in jail on 16
October 2009.

I have learned that Aye Myint's appeal to the Thayet District Court was summarily dismissed
and that the case is now to go before the Magwe Divisional Court. I urge that all responsible
authorities take prompt action to see that this person, who is innocent of any offence other than
that he has an honest desire to work for the betterment of villagers in Myanmar, be released
without delay. I also strongly urge that the illegal confiscation of farmers' lands, harassment and
frivolous criminal charges be ceased, so that villagers in Aunglan are able to earn their
livelihoods honestly and fairly.

Finally, I 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,

----------------

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

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BURMA: A human rights defender jailed for helping farmers over land disputes with officials 16.11.09 17:02

MYANMAR
Tel: +95 67 404 088/ 090/ 092/ 094/ 097
Fax: +95 67 404 146/ 106

Thank you.

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

Posted on 2009-11-13
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