Judicial system faces wide public distrust

The year 2014 saw several notable conflicts between the Myanmar people and the country’s judicial system.

Many journalists, farmers and activists were imprisoned in 2014. 

Eleven Media reporter Ma Khine was imprisoned for three months last January for defamation, trespass and use of abusive language while researching an alleged illegal video piracy case in Loikaw. 

Over a hundred of journalists gathered in Yangon on January 7, 2014, to protest Ma Khine’s arrest. Similarly, in other cities, the Myanmar Journalists Network and Myanmar Lawyers Network denounced the judgment in her case. 

Later last year, journalists from Unity Journal were sentenced to seven years in prison with hard labour. The case raised suspicion among journalists as to whether the judicial system might be persecuting journalists at the behest of the executive branch of the Myanmar government.

Courts also imprisoned people in many other sectors, including farmers in Kantbalu Township, Sagaing Region, in Bago Region and in the Nay Pyi Taw Council area. After the Union Parliament Land Investigation Committee was formed, over 700 litigation processes were carried out against farmers, and over 300 farmers were imprisoned. 

Fear of the Myanmar judicial system increased in 2014. 

Activist Htin Kyaw from the Movement for Democracy Current Force was charged by charged by eleven separate courts for disrupting public order by protesting against the government. 

Furthermore, the former Union Minister of Religious Affairs Hsan Hsint was given 13 years in prison for misusing government funds. Officials from opposition parties and civic organisations criticised the case.

Over ten thousand complaint letters were sent to the Lower House Judicial Committee in the first eight months of 2014. Most of them contained complaints about the judicial system. Many petitioners complained about unfair judgments and corruption perpetrated by court officials. 

Thura Aung Ko, chairperson of the Lower House Judicial Committee, admitted that the committee failed to check the courts in 90 per cent of cases. 

Thura Aung Ko said: “Some legal officers and judges experts at bribery. Courts of different levels protect each other.” 

He admitted although the complaint letters about the courts contain ample evidence and were sent to the Union Supreme Court and the high courts of various regions and states, little action was taken in response.

Even military MPs criticized the corruption of the judicial authorities and stressed that judgments need to be fair for the public. 

Lower House MP Thein Nyunt pointed out that many judges accused of accepting bribes faced internal consequences, although they did not face criminal charges.

In December 2014, a group of people threw stones at the home of the judge of Moenyin Township in response to a controversial ruling on a rape case. The police fired gunshots into the air to disperse the crowd. 

Overall, the judicial branch of the Myanmar government failed to gain public’s trust in 2014 and even damaged the country’s rule of law. 

In 2015, a three-year overhaul of the judicial system is set to begin.