BANGKOK (AFP) – Myanmar lawyers defending political detainees in junta-run courts are being harassed and even jailed by military authorities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday, warning that intimidation was forcing many to stop taking cases.
Since it seized power more than two years ago and plunged the country into turmoil, the junta has arrested tens of thousands in a sweeping and bloody crackdown on dissent.
Rights groups said the military has used the courts to throttle opponents including democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi and former president Win Myint, who were jailed for lengthy terms by closed-door courts.
Defence lawyers working in “special courts” set up by the junta to try political crimes face harassment, intimidation and threats from authorities, HRW said in a report based on interviews with 19 lawyers.
HRW cited the case of attorney Ywet Nu Aung, who was reportedly detained as she left a hearing where she was representing a former chief minister and member of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).
She was accused of helping to provide financial support to anti-junta militias and later sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labour.
Lawyers are regularly barred from communicating privately with clients ahead of hearings,
HRW said, and in an overcrowded legal system, some had taken on hundreds of cases.
Over 23,000 people have been arrested by the junta since the coup in February 2021, according to a local monitoring group.