Fortify Rights: Fair trial denied in ‘Muslim Army’ case in Burma, torture alleged

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The authorities must investigate allegations of torture in detention and uphold due process rights, says Fortify Rights.

(MANDALAY, 6 December 2015)—The Myanmar government denied a fair trial to 12 Muslim men accused of receiving training from an armed group, Fortify Rights said today.

Myanmar authorities allegedly tortured defendants now facing trial at Aung Myay Thar San Township Court in Mandalay Region.

At a hearing monitored by Fortify Rights on 17 September, defendant Soe Moe Aung, 24, testified that the authorities beat him in detention, deprived him of food and water, fed him pills, and administered unknown injections during interrogations that lasted approximately one week. He alleged that he was subsequently coerced into signing a document that he presumed to be a confession.

Fortify Rights has reason to believe authorities also tortured other defendants in this trial.

“Justice can’t prevail when torture is tolerated,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “This trial will be tainted until these allegations are properly addressed and fair trial standards are fulfilled.”

International law bans torture unequivocally and all states have an obligation to protect the human rights of those in detention. Torture is defined under international law as “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental,” inflicted by a state actor for specific purposes such as obtaining “information or a confession,” as punishment, as intimidation or coercion, “or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.”

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Fortify Rights monitored nine court hearings and examined approximately 170 pages of court documents pertaining to the case. The defendants are Muslim men, aged 19 to 58 years old, from Mandalay Region, Karen State and Shan State and are accused of associating with a group the prosecution refers to as the “Myanmar Muslim Army” in 2014.

During the trial, the government failed to present evidence of the existence of the Myanmar Muslim Army or the defendants’ connection to the group. Police officers serving as the government’s lead witnesses justified withholding evidence in the case by invoking the Official Secrets Act.

At several points during cross examination, government witnesses said they had no specific evidence demonstrating the existence of the Myanmar Muslim Army or that various defendants were connected to each other or to armed groups. In lieu of evidence, government witnesses testified that they received information about the allegations “from above.”

“A trial should be based on facts and evidence, not suspicion and secrecy,” said Matthew Smith. “The state has so far failed to show evidence to justify the charges against these defendants.”

Part of the government’s case rests on allegations that some of the defendants traveled to Thailand via Myawaddy, Karen State to receive training from the so-called “Myanmar Muslim Army.”

The 12 defendants were arrested and detained between 14 November and 26 December 2014 and have been charged under section 5(J) of Myanmar’s Emergency Provisions Act. They face up to seven years imprisonment. The court has already convicted and sentenced three of the defendants to three years in prison for alleged immigration violations.

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A verdict on the section 5(J) charges is expected on 7 December 2015.

Section 5(J) of the Emergency Provisions Act provides for up to seven years imprisonment for conduct intended “to affect the morality or conduct of the public or a group of people in a way that would undermine the security of the Union or the restoration of law and order.” The Myanmar government has used this vague provision to prosecute activists and other critics of the government.

The excessively broad and vague restrictions imposed by Section 5(J) may result in overreach and discriminatory application of the law, Fortify Rights said, adding that the law should be amended to bring it in line with international standards.

“The Myanmar government must ensure the right to a fair trial for all, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or the nature of alleged crimes,” said Matthew Smith. “Relying on torture and shoddy trials will only serve to perpetuate injustice and sow the seeds for future conflict.”

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