Kyaw Kyaw Min, a lawyer who recently returned to Burma from exile, was sentenced to six months imprisonment for contempt of court after a trial on Wednesday.
Despite an invitation by Burmese President Thein Sein for Burmese exiles to return home, Kyaw Kyaw Min was convicted of delaying the trials of democracy activists he represented in 2007.
“He will be the first person who receives imprisonment after returning to Burma,” said colleague and fellow lawyer Nyi Nyi Htwe. “As the president said that persons with criminal records may serve their punishments, he got the highest sentence despite his case being a setup rather than a crime. We will submit an appeal.”
Twelve clients of Kyaw Kyaw Min and Nyi Nyi Htwe were arrested during a peaceful march to call for the release of democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in August 2007. During the subsequent trial, the group, all members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said they did not believe in the Burmese judicial system and sat with their backs to the court.
The judge ordered the lawyers to make them turn around, but Nyi Nyi Htwe said that they had no authority to force their clients to behave in a certain way. Nyi Nyi Htwe was then convicted under Section 228 of the Burmese Penal Code but Kyaw Kyaw Min fled to Thailand before his sentence could be carried out.
Section 228 of the Burmese Penal Code reads: “Whoever intentionally offers any insult, or causes any interruption to any public servant, while such public servant is sifting in any state of a judicial proceeding, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine … or with both”
“It shouldn’t be like this as our clients have already been released during the amnesty,” said Nyi Nyi Htwe. “However, while they say that this is a new government and there are changes, the judicial system remains unchanged.”
He criticized the sentence of Kyaw Kyaw Min and highlighted the contradiction of welcoming exiled Burmese citizens home and removing thousands from the government’s blacklist while still proceeding with this prosecution.
“This simply shows that there are no assurances and guarantees for exiles on their future, safety or dignity despite [the president’s] welcoming speech,” said Nyi Nyi Htwe. “This action might put off exiled people from coming back home. I just would like to tell exiles to think about it seriously.”
In August 2011, President Thein Sein gave a speech that invited Burmese exiles to return home and take part in the ongoing reform process. On Thursday, the government also released the names of more than 2,000 foreigners who had been removed from its blacklist.