Lawyers take to streets to save historic courthouse

Lawyers take to streets to save historic courthouse

Dozens of lawyers marched through downtown Rangoon on Wednesday to protest the privatisation of two colonial-era buildings.

The demonstrators, members of the Myanmar Lawyers Network (MLN), oppose developments slated for the former Supreme Courthouse and Police Commissioner’s Office, both built more than 100 years ago.

Both structures are named on the city’s heritage list, designated by the municipal government.

The march began at the courthouse on Maha Bandoola Garden Street, and continued to the site of the old commissioner’s office on Strand Road. About 60 people took part, holding placards and shouting slogans.

Participants said that the buildings were being leased by the Myanmar Investment Commission to private companies, who plan to develop them into luxury hotels.

The demonstrators also called for a more open dialogue with city leaders about preserving the former capital’s historic architecture and cultural relics.

“We, lawyers, are protesting here today to protect our dignified courthouses from being turned into unseemly hotels,” said high court lawyer Zaw Min Hlaing, who was present at Wednesday’s march.

The MLN held a similar demonstration in October 2012.

Ko Ni, a Supreme Court lawyer, said that because the MIC has repeatedly ignored the lawyers’ objections, the MLN are preparing to take legal action against the commission for breaching the Protection and Preservation of Cultural Heritage Regions Law.

“We are running out of options,” he said, “so the MLN has considered suing the MIC for a breach of law. We informed them of the plan, but they responded only by saying that they have the authority to manage these buildings.

“This left us with no choice but to go ahead and sue them. But we thought we’d give it one last try with a protest, which is why we are here today.”

Another Supreme Court lawyer, Kyi Myint, said the lawsuit will proceed if the MIC does not make an appropriate response within 30 days.

“We hope that [the MIC] will choose to negotiate,” said Kyi Myint, “but we have to make our point on legal grounds.”

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