More than 10 activist lawyers have regained their licenses this week after years of not being able to practice law for political reasons.
Aung Thein, a former Supreme Court advocate and one of Burma’s most prominent human rights lawyers, has had his license returned after it was revoked for nearly three years.
“I heard 14 out of 25 activist lawyers including myself have had licenses restored,” he told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. However, Aung Thein said that as every notice was sent to each lawyer separately he needed to call colleagues to be certain of the exact number.
According to Hong Kong-based NGO the Asia Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), 25 Burmese lawyers and advocates had their licenses revoked for political reasons.
Aung Thein said he has not submitted an appeal letter to the authorities since receiving his ban. Instead, he established the Legal Performance Aid Center to support victims of human rights abuses and unlawful land confiscations.
“Even if we cannot present clients before court, we can assist those needing legal advice as we are now working in our own law firm,” he said.
In July and August, licenses were returned to several lawyers including those disbarred for political reasons. Robert Sann Aung, Guiding Star advocacy group leader Aye Myint, Khin Maung Than, Thein Than Oo, Kyi Win and Han Mar Myunt, who were all on the ALRC list, were restored after being banned during the 1990s and 2000s for helping activists and being members of the main opposition National League for Democracy party.
However, a license has not yet been returned to Pho Phyu, a consultant lawyer acting for farmers who were victims of illegal land grabs. He told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that he and his colleagues were still not allowed to officially practice law.
“Activist lawyers, who acts as consultants to farmers, workers and political activists are not getting licenses back yet,” said Pho Phyu, who runs the Purple Equity Law Firm in Rangoon.
He was jailed for providing legal aid to farmers whose land was seized in May 2008 and had his license revoked upon his release from prison in March 2010.
“The authorities tried to destroy my career, during which I worked as an attorney for five years from 2005 until 2010,” he said, adding that he now plans to pay tax from his law firm in addition to income tax to show that legal consultants can survive despite not being officially registered.
Kyaw Kyaw Min, another lawyer activist who was released during President Thein Sein’s prisoner amnesty on Monday, has not yet had his license returned.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, he said he will apply to renew his license soon. In the meantime, he still plans to visit the appeal court regarding his six-month sentence in August.
Although Kyaw Kyaw Min walked free this week, his appeal will soon be heard at the Rangoon court. “I will keep appealing at a higher court for justice,” he said.