Protesters Allege Corruption of Judge in Irrawaddy Division

By Salai Thant Zin 10 November 2014

PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Division — More than 200 locals staged a demonstration in front of the local courthouse against the rulings of a judge in Pantanaw Township, Irrawaddy Division, last week.

Pantanaw locals allege that the township judge, Thida One, has taken bribes, issued unjust rulings, delayed trials and refused defendants’ bail.

“My husband, a ten-household administrator, is behind bars now in Maubin. He, along with other responsible village administrators, temporarily detained a man who was drunk and disorderly in the ward. That man was only fined 10,000 kyats [US$10] but three ten-household administrators were sentenced to one month in prison for unlawful arrest. That’s why I’m staging this demonstration,” said Thin Thin Khaing from Kinwagyi village in Pantanaw Township. (A ten-household administrator is the lowest administrative rank in local government.)

The three village administrators temporarily detained a man for drunk and disorderly conduct in Kinwagyi village in September 2013. The detainee later sued nine people, including Thin Thin Khaing’s husband, on charges of unlawful arrest.

At the conclusion of a trial that lasted more than a year, the Pantanaw Township judge on Oct. 21 ruled that eight of the defendants, including the three ten-household administrators, be incarcerated for a month, provoking the anger of the defendants’ families, who led the demonstration on Friday. The plaintiff was fined 10,000 kyats.

It is the first demonstration by locals against a township judge, but previous anti-government protests have ranged from denunciations of the state of the education and health sectors in Irrawaddy Division to the region’s anti-human trafficking police force.

Demonstrators on Friday walked from the township general administration office to the courthouse, holding placards with messages including “Down with the Pantanaw township judge who unlawfully arrested farmers”; “No corruption and bribery”; “Judges should make objective judgment and release farmers”; and “Impartial judicial system wanted immediately.”

“The man who was drunk and disorderly in the ward was only fined 10,000 kyats. But those who detained him as part of their duty and others who were in no way concerned with the case were given prison sentences. This is totally unfair,” said Aye Myitn from Kinwagyi village.

“I therefore would like to ask the president and the chief justice to take action against that judge who made the unfair rulings,” he added.

The families of 19 farmers who were charged with stealing fish and three other offenses also participated in the demonstration last week. The detained farmers have been standing trial for over four months and were denied bail. Their families have demanded that the judge be investigated for the prolonged court proceedings.

“The farmers were called to the Pantanaw Township Court ostensibly to discuss their farms. When they arrived at the court, they were cuffed and arrested. They were put behind bars and have been facing trial for more than four months. They have also been denied bail,” said Kon Shan village resident Aung Mya Oo, whose brother is among the detainees.

“What I would like to say to the president and responsible persons is that the judicial pillar is severely cracked. I’d like to request that they fix it,” he added.

There were more than 30 land ownership dispute cases filed with the Pantanaw Township Court in 2013 and 2014. More than 200 farmers have been sued and about 50 of them were given jail sentences, said Zaw Zaw, a farmers’ rights activist from Pantanaw Township.