Five independent United Nations experts on human rights today demanded that authorities in Myanmar hold fair and open re-trials for dozens of prisoners of conscience sentenced to lengthy prison terms and immediately release their jailed defence counsels.
Last week a dozen detainees, including several women, arrested last year in connection with peaceful demonstrations, were each jailed for 65 years and more than 20 others, including five monks, were recently sentenced to up to 24 years. Many others still await sentencing.
“The closed-door hearings are being held inside prisons by courts which lack independence and impartiality,” the five experts said in a joint statement, noting that three defence lawyers had been sentenced to several months of imprisonment for contempt of court after they transmitted their clients’ complaints of unfair trials. Since early November several other defence lawyers have been barred from representing their clients.
“The UN experts strongly urge the Myanmar authorities to cease harassing and arresting individuals for peacefully exercising their internationally recognized human rights,” the statement added. “They further demand that all detainees be retried in open hearings respecting fair trial standards and the immediate release of their defence counsels.”
The statement followed a call last week by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar.
Reiterating previous calls to initiate reforms for a transition to a multiparty democratic and civil government, as envisaged by the new Constitution, the experts strongly urged the authorities to immediately commence work on ensuring the indispensable pre-conditions for free and fair general elections to be held in 2010.
These include a comprehensive review of national legislation to ensure its compliance with international human rights standards, the release of political prisoners of conscience, and reform of the armed forces and the judicial system.
The five experts are: Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana; Special Rapporteur for the independence of judges and lawyers Leandro Despouy; Special Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue; Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya; and Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief Asma Jahangir.
The special rapporteurs, who serve in an independent unpaid capacity, report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.