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Two youths in central Burma’s Pegu Division who were recently arrested by authorities, allegedly under the Unlawful Association Act, have been prevented from seeing their families or lawyers whilst in detention.
Zarni Htun, 24, a resident of Prome [Pyay] township and Wei Phyo of Okpho township were arrested in Innma town on 12 August and have been detained in Prome Prison ever since. A family member of Zarni Htun told DVB the two are facing charges under the Unlawful Association Act;
“On August 15, we found out they were being detained at Prome’s Police Station-1 and they were brought to a court hearing the next day,” said Zarni Htun’s family member.
“They were transferred to detention in the [Prome] prison on August 17 and we went there to visit them and give them some food and clothing – but the prison didn’t allow us to see them,” the family member continued.
“Today [August 23], [Wei Phyo’s family] went to the prison to get [the two’s] signatures to handover [legal] power to their lawyers but were turned down by the prison again – officials there said the prison’s chief was in a meeting and told us to come again the next day.”
The Universal Declaration of human rights specifically forbids arbitrary detention in its article 9, which given the vague grounds on which they are being held could be applicable; DVB could not confirm which law they were supposed to have broken.
Meanwhile article 20 of the same declaration also states that; “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
Zarni Htun’s family member meanwhile stated that about 20 uniformed and plain-clothed officials came and searched his house on 12 August but didn’t find anything.
She said the two were due appear in a court hearing on August 31, trials are often in practice closed door.
“We heard they have been charged with the [Unlawful Association] act and a court hearing for them was appointed for August 31. We are so worried for them – we want to know if they are okay, if they are in good health and also want to give them some items [food/cloths].”
The UN human rights envoy, Tomas Ojea Quintana who is currently visiting the country earlier in the year noted that authorities began a practice of transferring prisoners to prevent visits from family in 2008 as a “further punishment,”… “This practice endangers prisoners of conscience, as they suffer additionally from these even harsher conditions of detention, and creates additional hardship for the families of the prisoners.”
Whilst Burma’s government is nominally democratic and with President Thein Sein telling parliament on Monday that; “we have specially focussed on securing fundamental rights of citizens,” groups such as the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC) have begged to differ, especially on the issue of the law. The head of the Hong Kong based ALRC, Basil Fernando said in a statement in April that;
“If the members of Burma’s new parliament believe that they have political legitimacy, then all of them, from all parties, should take up this lead and put the rule of law at the very front of their agendas for legislative and administrative reform, not just in rhetoric but in substance.”