8 Detained Students Waive Counsel, 3 Others Join Hunger Strike

By Zarni Mann 27 October 2015

MANDALAY — Students and supporters facing trial for peaceful demonstrations earlier this year are taking a new tack in dealing with Burma’s sluggish judiciary, as eight defendants shed their lawyers in protest and several others have joined a hunger strike initiated by one of their peers.

Returning to Tharrawaddy District Court for a hearing on Tuesday, eight detainees submitted a request to waive their legal counsel because they had lost faith in the courts, according to family members and a lawyer present at the trial.

“They said they were boycotting the court because they don’t believe in the judicial system,” said a relative of one defendant, who wished to remain anonymous. “They said they would not need lawyers to defend them because the judiciary fails to protect the truth and is biased.”

Five students— Khant Aung, Mar Naw, Myo Htet Paing, Swe Lin Tun and Than Htike—and three supporters—Ko Thein, Myat Soe Oo and Myo Myat San—are participating in the legal boycott, which the court has accepted.

“They said no matter how hard they defend themselves, the court will find them guilty. So they will not need any defense,” explained lawyer Hla Myo Myint, who represents some of those on trial but not the eight in question.

A number of other detainees have take up another kind of protest, as three students vowed on Tuesday to join a hunger strike that began late last week.

Aung Hmone San, one of the more than 60 people being held in Tharrawaddy Prison, sent a letter to President Thein Sein in early October threatening to go on hunger strike if all political prisoners throughout the country were not released by Oct. 15. On Oct. 23, he made good on his promise.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy by phone on Tuesday, his wife Le Le Nwe said Aung Hmone San’s health has already begun to deteriorate and he has been moved to solitary confinement where authorities have attempted to force feed him.

“He is a bit weak and he can’t speak very much, but he can still walk,” Le Le New said. “He said the prison authorities put him in a solitary cell, though he requested to stay with the others. He said the prison doctors check his health regularly and tried to give him a glucose drip, which he refused. Then about four men grabbed him and forcefully gave him the drip.”

Le Le Nwe said her husband, who she met with briefly at the courthouse on Tuesday, plans to continue his strike until all prisoners of conscience were released. At least three other detainees—Than Htike, Myo Myat San, Myo Htet Paing—have also vowed to go on hunger strike as of Wednesday.

More than 100 students and their supporters were arrested on March 10 in Letpadan, Pegu Division, when police brutally cracked down on peaceful demonstrations against a new National Education Law.

Scores of those arrested during the violent incident remain behind bars, a full seven months after their arrest, pending a verdict. The students and other detainees face a variety of charges including unlawful assembly, rioting and causing harm to a public servant.