Exiled lawyer slams Burmese legal system

Dec 16, 2008 (DVB), A defence lawyer who fled Burma in October under threat of a prison sentence has spoken out about delays and restrictions in the Burmese judicial system which prevent political prisoners from getting a fair trial.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min and fellow lawyer Nyi Nyi Htwe were charged with intentional insult to a public servant sitting in judicial proceedings after three of his clients turned their backs to the court during their trial as a protest against the legal process.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was due to appear in court to answer the charges against him on 30 October, but when he went to Insein township court on 29 October to defend two other clients he was told the authorities had ordered his arrest and he fled the country for Thailand.

During his time representing defendants charged with political offences, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min said he encountered many difficulties in gaining a fair hearing for his clients.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min claimed the judge and prosecution act on the orders of government officials and will sometimes decide to postpone court hearings at the last minute or go ahead with a hearing when the defence lawyer is unable to attend.

In other cases, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min said defence lawyers were not informed of the time or location of the trial, and are not allowed to meet with their clients without police officers and members of Special Branch being present.

Applications for case files, which are generally processed within one day in criminal cases, take at least a week to be granted in political cases, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min said, and there is a similar delay in applications for power of attorney.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min received his licence to practise law at the end of May 2008 and worked on 14 different cases defending political prisoners up until he left the country on 29 October 2008.

Reporting by Siân Thomas

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