No Law At All
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Magazine

EDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE

No Law At All


By The Irrawaddy APRIL, 2002 - VOLUME 10 NO.3


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Burma is full of ironies and surprises. This time, reports say that members of Ne Win’s family, who were accused of conspiring to seize state power, spent weeks trying to find lawyers willing to defend their case. In May, Aye Zaw Win and three of his sons—Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win, all in their twenties—were taken to a special court in the notorious Insein prison and charged with high treason. If found guilty, they could face the death penalty or a life sentence. But lawyers fear that defending the Ne Win clan in court could be bad for their careers. Other attorneys in Rangoon have a different take, however, saying that the government has no legitimacy to prosecute citizens for high treason since they abolished the 1974 constitution shortly after seizing power in 1988. Regardless, the government must provide a lawyer if the accused cannot afford or find one, lawyers explain. In fact, the military government appointed a powerless judge to the case, leading sources in Rangoon to believe that "someone else at the top" has already leveled a verdict. The same goes for the trials of hundreds of political prisoners who have been serving long-term sentences in Burma without a free and fair trial. Very few believe that justice will prevail in their cases. Special courts administered by the military rarely allow activists and politicians to defend themselves. Security officials routinely present false documents and accusations in order to keep dissenters in prison for years. It will be intriguing to see if Ne Win’s family is prosecuted in an open trial. For the generals in Rangoon, it would be like opening a Pandora’s Box that could expose the truth behind this fascinating power play. Ne Win’s family will have a lot to say and will vigorously defend themselves against the government’s accusations, as analysts still doubt the junta’s claim that Burma’s "first family" engineered an attempted coup. But it would be futile to expect justice from the generals who have never been known to play by anybody’s rules but their own. General Saw Maung, who staged a coup in 1988, once said publicly that there is no law in Burma because the country is ruled by martial law. If so, then why hire a lawyer in the first place?

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