Jailed farmers' lawyer refused appeal

June 1, 2009 (DVB), An appeal for a renowned lawyer jailed after helping Burmese farmers complain to the United Nations of land confiscation by the military was last week rejected by court authorities, his lawyer said.

In January this year, lawyer Pho Phyu was arrested and then sentenced in March under the Unlawful Associations Act to four years in prison.

He had been assisting farmers in Magwe division, central Burma, to file complaints to the UN's International Labour Organisation regarding the confiscation of over 5000 acres of farmland by the Burmese army.

"The court rejected our request to reconsider his sentence so his term remains at four years as before," said lawyer Myint Thwin.

"We are to take our appeal to a higher level court."

Min Lwin Oo, spokesperson for the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission denounced the court decision and charges, pointing out that Pho Phyu had not formed any association under which he could be charged under the Act.

"The organisation never existed and there is also no evidence that Pho Phyu was drawing plans to form one," he said.

"Yet they still passed the sentence upon him before they could prove anything and it is very wrong to reaffirm that at court."

The ILO's liaison office in Rangoon was unavailable for a comment.

The Unlawful Associations Act outlaws groups and organizations deemed by the government to be a threat to national stability.

It has been used to sentence numerous activists and politicians, often under very spurious grounds given the arbitrary criteria under which groups are deemed 'unlawful'.

In April, the exiled Burma Lawyers Council called for abolishment of the Act, citing the malleability under which the government uses it to sentence opposition members, journalists and activists.

Reporting by Aye Nai

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