Rangoon Lawyers Take to the Streets—Again

Lawyers stage a demonstration in downtown Rangoon on Wednesday morning to protest the sale of colonial courthouse buildings to hotel consortiums. (PHOTO: Irrawaddy)

Some 200 lawyers held a demonstration along Maha Bandula Road in Rangoon on Wednesday morning to protest the lack of government response to their previous calls to resist the sale of the city’s 101-year-old High Court and the Police Commissioner Office to a consortium of local and Chinese businessmen.

According to one high-profile protester, High Court attorney Ko Ni, the colonial courthouses, which he says are part of Rangoon’s heritage, are to be turned into hotels.

He said the protest was permitted to accommodate 150 lawyers, but at least 200 arrived to participate in the public action.

Ko Ni said that they had already submitted a petition on three occasions to President Thein Sein and to Parliament urging the governing authorities to prevent the sale of the downtown buildings. He said the lawyers’ congress was yet to receive a response.

“The red-brick building … has been the High Court since colonial times and has continually been used only for legislative purposes,” Ko Ni said to assembled reporters. “Why should it suddenly be privatized as soon as democracy comes along?”

In 1998, soon after the military government had enacted laws on protecting cultural sites and national heritage buildings, both the central court and Rangoon district court buildings were listed as heritage sites. They were nonetheless employed as legal institutes until April this year when they were handed over to the Investment Commission with no explanation.

“The investors who won the tender said that they didn’t know anything about this national heritage status,” said Ko Ni. “They said they just bid for it and won. They said they only found out about the sensitive nature of the architecture afterward.”

High court attorney Aung Thein said, “The military junta imposed these laws on heritage and then allowed an auction for the same buildings. I’d like to say that the junta showed that the laws they enacted were not for them to abide by, but for only the public to follow.”

Another High Court attorney, Maung Maung Soe, said that part of the reason for the sale of the buildings was due to a significant raise in taxes on the offices. However, he said, “The two Houses of Parliament should have discussed the issue thoroughly before the sale was permitted to go ahead.”

Dressed in the black tunics that are familiar legal attire in Burma, the lawyers carried banners in Burmese and English with slogans such as “Don’t Desecrate Our Courthouses” and “Preserve Our National Heritage Sites.” They began the demonstration at 10 am and ended it quietly one hour later. There were no reports of disturbances or police presence.

A spokesman for the lawyers’ congress said the group intended to form a “free league” of lawyers in the near future, and would work on human rights issues.

7 Responses to Rangoon Lawyers Take to the Streets—Again

  1. This is not at all acceptable. The Laws in Burma are only for the Burmese people to follow but not for the generals and their cronies? The world should know that we still can’t trust Thein Sein government and the generals. All they want is money and power but not for the good of the country and the people. What kind of a government would put The High Court on sale? I personally protest the sale of The High Court of Burma as I used to work there and this building is part of our heritage.  

  2. The generals who are in civilian clothes must try to know what to do. Turning historic build into hotels or brothels is unacceptable. The lawyers are not asking for their own residence but honor the heritage and history. Selling out everything for their own benefits is so ugly. It is not serving the people or our country but so stupid act which is inexcusable. 

  3. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    This is what democracy looks like. The more people have room to express their opinion, the better for the government to be in touch with its people. The beauty of democracy is its tolerance of anyone to have the right to be wrong, and all opinions are counted. I think the government is mistaken to privatize those historic building. 

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  4. These historic buildings need to be protected from the voracious greed of urban land developers who colluded with corrupted officials.The deals were made under the most opaque circumstances.The people have the right to protect their heritage edifices.It is a shame to see justice is being carried out in slums while developments are being planned,or even carried out in historic buildings.Shame on those who planned and executed them.Shame!!!

  5. New court houses with Myanmar architecture will be built.

  6. There will be spanking new buildings with classic Myanmar architecture.

  7. Lawyers should not have to worry about the selling of these buildings. With the proceeds new buildings with classic Myanmar/Burmese archietecture can be built, creating new jobs and buoying up the economy.
    Use idle capital assets to stimulate demand and jobs. Go ahead.

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