The ICJ conducted a workshop for journalists on fair trial rights and due process on 9 February 2020 in Yangon to help them respond to situations of arrest and prosecution
Some 25 journalists across Myanmar participated in the event, including media representatives from ethnic communities in Shan and Kachin states. Members of nationwide journalism networks, the Myanmar Media Lawyers Network, and the Myanmar Press Council also participated.
The workshop apprised journalists of the guarantees and rights of persons arrested and prosecuted under international human rights law, and the limited protections available under Myanmar law in comparison. It provided a space for participants to collectively identify gaps in journalistic protection. It also intended to foster greater collaboration between journalists and lawyers in safeguarding a free press in Myanmar.
The workshop opened with remarks from Linda van der Horst, head of the political section of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Myanmar, and Ross Clarke, Team Leader at the ICJ. Both stressed the role of the media in ensuring a robust democracy that adheres to the rule of law, especially in light of the upcoming 2020 national elections. Linda Van der Horst noted that the workshop could also help journalists more deeply understand legal concepts useful for their reporting.
ICJ Associate Legal Adviser Jenny Domino addressed the rights of arrested persons and fair trial guarantees in criminal proceedings under international law. She highlighted the unlawfulness of arresting a journalist as punishment for his work in ensuring that individuals receive information in a free and democratic society. In a comparative context, she discussed the various writs available under Philippine law to protect journalists from unlawful arrests, extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.
ICJ Legal Adviser Hnin Win Aung then discussed Myanmar criminal procedure and the pre-trial rights of criminal defendants. She introduced the writ of habeas corpus remedy under the 2014 Law on the Application for Writs for contesting arbitrary detention. She explained the limitations of this remedy and the practical challenges of litigating in the Myanmar courts.
The presentations were followed by a panel discussion on fair trial rights challenges in Myanmar. The panel was composed of U Myint Kyaw of the Myanmar Press Council, U Brang Mai of Myitkyina Journal, U Myo Aung of Dawei Watch and U Than Zaw Aung of Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network. The speakers agreed that there is no equality before the law and pushed for greater advocacy on judicial independence and impartiality.
To conclude the workshop, the participants shared their thoughts on how lawyers and the ICJ could help local media moving forward. The participants suggested a human rights analysis of how fair trial rights are undermined in practice by various actors in Myanmar’s criminal justice system. They also expressed their interest to work more closely with lawyers towards better reporting of current events.
The workshop marks the ICJ’s effort to support journalists and empower persons from minority groups towards greater participation in Myanmar’s democratic transition.
Jenny Domino, ICJ Associate Legal Adviser, e: jenny.domino(a)icj.org
Hnin Win Aung, ICJ Legal Adviser, e: hninwin.aung(a)icj.org
Briefing Paper, Citizenship Law and Human Rights in MyanmarAdvocacyWeb stories