Detainees Claim Innocence, Allege Police Torture

By Lawi Weng & Kyal Pyar 20 December 2012

RANGOON—A group of 23 detainees held at Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison claim they have been wrongly accused in a murder case and allege that police tortured them in custody in order to extract a confession of guilt, according to family members and a legal representative.

The defendants were brought to Pazundaung Township Court for a murder trial on Monday during which two shouted to reporters in the court room that they had been tortured into confessing to murder and were really innocent.

“They [police] tortured me a lot and I could not bear it anymore. This is why I had to admit guilt in this case!” exclaimed Tun Tun Win.

Another detainee, Ko Myi Lay, also shouted to the press that he had been forced to confess by police. His wife, Khaing Zar Lwin, told The Irrawaddy that he had complained of severe torture during interrogation, with police even dripping water onto his head at night while he was tied down.

“He [Ko Myi Lay] told me that the police kicked him with their boots sometimes during the interrogations, and he could not sleep at night as they dropped water on him to torture him,” she said.

Khaing Zar Lwin said that ever since her husband was arrested the family had suffered as she was now the sole breadwinner for her and her young daughter and could not afford to support them with her paltry civil servant salary. “Now without my husband … it’s hard to survive,” she said.

Ko Myi Lay and Tun Tun Win are among 23 men who were arrested in November 2011 in Wai Bar Gi quarter in Rangoon’s North Okkalapa Township for their involvement in a brawl during a public festival, which left one man dead.

Ko Myi Lay’s lawyer Khin Than Aye said the group were only suspects, but police had violated their legal rights, assumed their guilt and tortured them into confessing, adding that the men had been locked in Insein Prison while they were still in pre-trial detention.

“The rule of law in our country is [weak] like a rubber band. Those who are only suspicious persons, they are identified as criminals and imprisoned,” she said.

Human rights groups have long accused the Burmese police force of arbitrarily detentions and torturing suspects to extract confession, money or to silence political activists. There have also been many recorded instances of people dying in custody.

These cases are often not investigated, while Burma also still lacks a law that criminalizes torture, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Thein Nyunt, a senior lawyer and a member of the Lower House of Parliament for the New Democracy Party, said the court system was biased in favor of the police and often accepted evidence provided by police or military investigators, while rejecting evidence offered by defendants’ lawyers.

“Many court cases in Burma do not have enough evidence, but the court just bases its decisions on evidence provided by military [or police] intelligence and then sentences the detainees,” he said, adding that if President Thein Sein wants to reform the country he has to address such deficiencies in the legal system.

“The court cannot act like this in a country that wants to have a strong democratic system,” he said.