A group of 20 Muslims on trial for undermining state security in Shan State capital Taunggyi are being constantly threatened and harassed by Buddhist monks and local Swan Arr Shin members, says their lawyer.
Defence lawyer Khin Moh Moh, who is also the local chairwomen of the National League for Democracy, said, “A group of monks have been showing up outside the court house when the hearings have been taking place. They initially distributed leaflets. Then a bunch of Swan Arr Shin members joined in and began verbally harassing the families of the defendants.”
Swan Arr Shin is a civic paramilitary group, renowned for bully-boy tactics and thuggish attacks, allegedly at the bidding of the military.
Four months ago, 14 Muslims from Taunggyi and Kyaukse in Mandalay Division, were detained at a military checkpoint while apparently en route to a wedding in Kunhein, some 100km northeast of Taunggyi. They were accused of having connections with a terrorist organisation. Soon after, six more Muslims, including the groom and bride-to-be were also arrested.
The 20 were subsequently charged with the articles 5(j) and (l) of the 1950 Emergency Provision Act, for: undermining security of the state; and arms or explosives offences, respectively.
Their lawyer told DVB that the 20 have been slandered online via a social media campaign to smear their names and label them as “terrorists”.
“We have received threats. They have also been openly smearing the defendants on Facebook warning that they are monitoring the trial that is about to be concluded in December and will riots if the sentences are light.”
The trial has regular court hearings on Monday and Thursday weekly.
However, the Taunggyi police denied any mobs had assembled in front of the courthouse during trials, and insisted the situation had remained calm.
On condition of anonymity, the father of one of the defendants said he was not allowed to see his son for one month until he was brought to a court hearing.
He also explained the difficulty in finding a lawyer for the group, as was most lawyers were too afraid of repercussion from Buddhists.
“When I saw my son I cried and begged for a lawyer, but everyone was too afraid to defend them,” said the father.
“In the end, I reached out to Daw Khin Moh Moh and she agreed to help.
“The truth is that there is no evidence to support the accusation against them. Plaintiff Capt. Zeyar Linn’s testimony confirms there was no paper evidence or weapons seized from them. So the charges against them are rather unfitting and we are calling for these charges be changed to appropriate ones or be dropped entirely.”