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Kachin refugee's jailing highlights rights abuses

Lawyer says torture and arbitrary arrests are rampant

  • John Zaw, Mandalay
  • Myanmar
  • February 28, 2013
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A lawyer representing an ethnic Kachin man convicted of unlawful association for alleged ties to the Kachin Independence Army said on Wednesday that he would appeal against the two-year prison sentence handed down last week.

Manang Tu Ja was sentenced on February 18 in a Myitkyina court just four days after the UN Rights envoy Tomas Ojea Qintana visited the restive state. Kachin has been embroiled for the last 20 months in fighting between the ethnic opposition army and government troops.

The lawyer, who asked not to be identified, said the conviction was based largely on spurious testimony presented by the Myanmar military, and on the basis of a law that dates back to 1908.

“The testimony from military intelligence explained that Tu Ja admitted to attending military training with the KIA for several months before returning to a refugee camp with his wife and children,” the lawyer said.

He added, however, that the admission was made under coercive and illegal interrogation by the military.

The lawyer said he would file an appeal to the district court next month.

Tu Ja, 29, and his family were residents of the Ja Mai Kawng refugee camp in Myitkyina when he was arrested on May 12 last year.

Ma Hka, a lawyer who has represented similar cases brought against Kachin refugees, said that Tu Ja’s plight is one of many examples of human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar military in Kachin state.

“The accused are tortured and interrogated, and there is no other option for them but to give the answers that the military wants them to give,” he said.

“The court is a place for discovering the truth and people depend on this, but the court has failed. There is no hope for people.”

The UN’s Quintana, who met Tu Ja during his visit, has expressed grave concerns over allegations of torture and arbitrary arrest.

“I am concerned about the ongoing practice of arbitrary arrest and torture during interrogation by the military of Kachin men accused of belonging to the Kachin Independence Army,” he told reporters in Yangon on February 16.

The Asian Legal Resource Center last year examined 36 cases in which police or military detained civilians under the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act for suspicion of having contacts with the KIA.

The group said that authorities in these cases knew that most of the accused were not guilty but used the law to detain and interrogate them, adding that the law is being employed to license the deliberate capture and abuse of innocent people.

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