Sixteen political prisoners denied lawyers

Dec 15, 2009 (DVB), Restrictions have been placed on the permits of lawyers representing 16 political prisoners at a trial in central Burma, while family members have been barred from entering the courtroom.

It is not know what the accused, who are active campaigners for the release of political prisoners in Burma, are being charged with. The sister of one of the accused, Venerable Nanda Wuntha, said that her brother is facing seven charges.

Another relative of one of the defendants said that court officials had instructed the 16 to hire lawyers from the proxy government organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), at a cost of 200,000 kyat ($US200), although none had complied.

"They are speeding up the process to sentence them but they have not been sentenced yet because we are having a problem with lawyers," said the sister of Myo Han.

She added that only two of the four lawyers put forward by families of the defendants have been allowed to represent them.

"Only [lawyers] U Myint Thwin and Kyaw Soe Lin were accepted," she said. "We have to wait until they come out [of the courtroom]. Only then will we know for certain whether they get the permission or not," she said.

Restrictions on lawyers representing opposition members and witnesses testifying for the defence are common in Burma. During the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year, courts barred all but one of her witnesses from testifying, while the prosecution was allowed 14.

Lawyers themselves are also at risk of harassment by the government. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), 12 lawyers are currently imprisoned in Burma.

The United Nations special rapporteur for Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, in October slammed the culture of impunity in Burma and said that the establishment of an independent judiciary would be a signal that the junta is moving towards democratic reform.

Reporting by Aye Nai

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