Freed prisoner to file risky lawsuit

A human rights activist jailed in 2007 after he was assaulted by a mob alleged to belong to the former junta’s so-called “civic” organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), says he will file a lawsuit against the perpetrators.

Myint Naing was released from prison last week as part of a controversial amnesty that included some 220 political prisoners. The activist, who worked with the Human Rights Promoters and Defenders (HRDP) network, said that police were also complicit in the attack four years ago in Irrawaddy division, which resulted in he and a colleague being hospitalised.

Following the incident, he was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of inciting unrest. Now, he says, justice must play its part.

“I was beaten up and also imprisoned – I take this as a violation of my human rights and … I will sue my assailants to bring justice,” said Myint Naing. “I once raised this with the home affairs ministry while I was in prison but they said I could only follow up on this when I’m released.

“Since it is said that there is no one above the law, the first thing I’ll do is to sue them under the constitution.”

Critics of the Burmese regime, including foreign governments and rights groups, say that hundreds of prisoners are locked up on arbitrary, politically-motivated charges. Myint Naing and his colleague had attempted to sue the USDA following the incident, but had been hit by a counter lawsuit.

The independence of the country’s legal system is highly questionable, with few verdicts going in favour of the opposition. While a degree of openness has emerged with the new government, up to 1,700 political prisoners remain behind bars, and critics that that pressure on the government should not ease until they have been released.

Myint Naing says he chose to publicise the lawsuit through media because the newly-formed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which includes former government ministers, only has a mandate to deal with new cases, and not existing complaints.

He claims that around 100 people were involved in the attack, which happened on 18 April 2007  in Irrawaddy division’s Henzada township. Police at the scene allegedly used slingshots to provide cover fire for the assailants.

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