Investigate alleged torture, repeal Unlawful Associations Act

(YANGON, November 7, 2017)—Myanmar authorities should immediately release a detained 14-year-old ethnic Ta’ang boy and urgently investigate allegations that military officials tortured him in detention, Fortify Rights said today. The Shan State Namhsan Township Court on October 30 sentenced Mai Cho Min Htwe to two years in prison for unlawful association with an ethnic armed group.

“The continued detention of a 14-year-old boy on trumped-up charges demonstrates a new low for rule of law in Myanmar,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Fortify Rights. “Mai Cho Min Htwe should be home with his family, not behind bars.”

On October 30, Namhsan Township Court Judge Zaw Zaw Oo convicted Mai Cho Min Htwe without a trial for allegedly violating Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act. Myanmar Army Division 77 Major Myint Maung Maung Soe filed the charges earlier that same day.

The charges relate to an alleged photograph of Mai Cho Min Htwe in a Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) uniform. The TNLA is an ethnic armed group based in northern Shan State that is engaged in armed conflict with the Myanmar Army.

Captain Thura Htun Oo from Myanmar Army Light Infantry Division 105 arrested Mai Cho Min Htwe on October 5 at 5 p.m. after allegedly finding the photograph while searching the boy’s mobile phone during a traffic stop at Padamayar Pagoda checkpoint outside Namhsan town. The Myanmar Army soldiers took Mai Cho Min Htwe to the Light Infantry Division 324 operational camp in Namhsan Township and detained him for seven days.

According to Mai Cho Min Htwe’s lawyer, military officers reportedly interrogated Mai Cho Min Htwe overnight, beat him, and deprived him of sleep, food, and water.

On October 12, the military transferred Mai Cho Min Htwe to Namhsan Police Station, where he is currently being held and awaits transfer to prison.

At no time during his detention, interrogations, or closed-door court hearing did the authorities provide Mai Cho Min Htwe, who cannot speak Burmese, with an interpreter or lawyer. Mai Cho Min Htwe spoke to a lawyer for the first time since his arrest on November 2—three days after the court convicted him without a trial. The authorities have not yet given Mai Cho Min Htwe’s lawyer access to the court records.

“This conviction is unlawful and should raise concerns at the highest levels of the Myanmar government,” said Matthew Smith. “This case demonstrates an appalling disregard for the rights of children and a callous response to a possible case of child soldiering.”

Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Myanmar is a party, provides that the arrest and detention of a child should take place “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Article 40 of the CRC further guarantees the right to fair trial standards for children, including access to an interpreter and legal assistance.    

Torture and ill treatment—including beatings during interrogations, sleep deprivation, and food and water deprivation—are absolutely prohibited under customary international law.

Myanmar is a also a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which prohibits the recruitment or use of child soldiers by non-state armed groups. On June 27, 2012, the Myanmar Government signed a Joint Action Plan with the United Nations to end and prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

In accordance with its commitments under international law, the Myanmar authorities should urge the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups in the country to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers and demobilize all child soldiers in their ranks, Fortify Rights said. The authorities should not criminalize children suspected to be affiliated with armed groups, but should extend protections to them as possible child soldiers.

Myanmar authorities have long used the sweeping provisions of the Unlawful Associations Act to arrest and imprison human rights defenders and others. For instance, on October 27, the Lashio District Court sentenced Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Langjaw Gam Seng, two ethnic Kachin religious leaders to four years and three months and two years and three months in jail respectively for allegedly violating Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act and other violations. The authorities accused the two religious leaders of supporting the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—another ethnic armed group operating in northern Myanmar—after the men assisted journalists to document damage allegedly caused by Myanmar military airstrikes on a Catholic church and other civilian structures in Muse Township, northern Shan State, in late 2016.

The Myanmar Parliament should immediately repeal the Unlawful Associations Act, Fortify Rights said. 

“This law threatens the rights of everyone in Myanmar and makes the country less secure,” said Matthew Smith. “It’s imperative that the authorities repeal the Unlawful Associations Act and immediately and unconditionally release Mai Cho Min Htwe to prevent any further harm to him and his family.”

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