Asia legal body launches lawyer appeal

Thirty-two Burmese lawyers whose licences were revoked “for political reasons” must have their cases reviewed by the country’s judiciary and quickly reinstated, the Asian Legal Resource Centre has said.

The lawyers were disbarred “because of dissatisfaction of the authorities with their political activities, or efforts to defend the rights of persons accused in political cases,” the group said in a statement today

It argues that the decision by Burmese courts to ban them from practicing was not in line with Burma’s own procedural laws. “Each of these 32 did no more than freely represent their political opinions in accordance with the law. A number of them did no more than practice their profession in accordance with the relevant codes of conduct.”

Among them is Aung Thein, the one-time lawyer for Aung San Suu Kyi, who has also defended high-profile activists Min Ko Naing and Ashin Gambira, both of whom are serving prison sentences of more than 60 years.

In May 2009, Aung Thein was preparing to defend the Nobel Laureate in a trial in which she was accused of sheltering US citizen John Yettaw, when he was dismissed.

A top judge in Burma’s Supreme Court had ruled that Aung Thein’s four-month spell in prison on charges of violating lawyer ethics made him unfit for the posting, and he was forbidden from entering the Insein jailhouse court where Suu Kyi was being tried.

A letter sent to President Thein Sein in early November that carried the signatures of around 25 disbarred lawyers, all of whom have spent time in jail on politically-motivated charges, failed to elicit a response.

ALRC said that in light of “the changed political circumstances” in Burma over the past year, the country’s Supreme Court should review their cases “with a view to restoring them their professional qualifications.”

The independence of Burma’s courts has long been questioned: many analysts consider them a stooge of the government, which keeps around 1,600 political prisoners behind bars, among which are opposition lawyers.

The legal body said however that Burma’s Attorney General, Dr. Tun Shin, “[informed] the parliament that the Bar Council is authorised to review cases where licences have been revoked and make submissions to the Supreme Court on the same.

“We urge that in each of the cases of the [32] lawyers … that process now take place in order that they are again able to earn their livelihoods and also contribute towards the development of their country at this vitally important time.”

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