Myanmar: Arbitrary detention of Mr. Gei Om, member of the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability

25/09/2020
Urgent Appeal

MMR 003 / 0920 / OBS 106
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Myanmar
September 25, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Myanmar.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA)[1] about the arbitrary detention of Mr. Gei Om, a member of MATA who works actively on environmental protection and conservation in Chin State. Mr. Gei Om is also a member of the Chin Aung Ta Man (a youth organisation of Chin people), the Chin Civil Society Network, and the Man Eain Working Committee (a community-based organisation).

According to the information received, on July 24, 2020, Mr. Gei Om was taken into custody after a local official in Ohn Village Tract sent a letter of complaint to authorities in Mindat Township, Chin State, on July 13, 2020. The complaint alleged that Mr. Gei Om had spread false news about possible illicit activities throughout Chin villages, was involved in an illegal land dispute settlement in 2016, and had been collecting taxes from villages.

Prior to his arrest, Mr. Gei Om helped local community leaders to monitor the impact of a project of model farms to harvest oil seed plants designed by the Management Committee of Mindat Township. They found out that the local government in charge of the model farms had engaged in illegal logging and that the farms had caused environmental damage to the Natma Taung National Park. On June 1, 2020, they had sent a previous complaint to the Environmental Conservation Department (ECD) of the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environmental Conservation (MONREC), which ordered the Forest Department in Mindat Township to carry out an investigation into the matter. During a meeting with Forest Department officials and two representatives of local communities, Mr. Gei Om, who acted as a negotiator and translator from Chin to Burmese and vice versa, advised the community leaders not to sign documents, which asserted that an investigation was carried out and no wrongdoing had been found. The above-mentioned July 13 complaint letter of the Ohn Village Tract official against Mr. Gei Om was sent to the Mindat Township authorities following this meeting, and led to his arrest.

On August 7, 2020, the Deputy Police Chief charged Mr. Gei Om under Section 5 (1) (F) (G) of the Restriction of Movement and Probation of Habitual Offenders Act of 1961 for his participation in the settlement of a land dispute in 2016. The fabricated charge stemmed from his participation as a community negotiator in the resolution of a land dispute under a customary dispute resolution mechanism after the destruction of a village by a landslide in 2015. At the time, the government authorities had authorized the land dispute to be settled according to local customs but they subsequently claimed that the dispute was not settled legally and that Mr. Gei Om should therefore be charged for his involvement in it, which the authorities claimed it amounted to inciting conflict.

After charges were pressed, Mr. Gei Om was offered a conditional release provided that he would not leave Mindat Township and he would report on a bi-monthly basis to the police for six months to one year, which he refused. If found guilty, Mr. Gei Om will be prohibited from leaving his township and, if he does not comply with this measure of restriction, he could be sentenced to one year in prison. He is currently detained in Mindat Township.

The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mr. Gei Om, which seem to be only aimed at punishing him for his legitimate human rights work.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Myanmar asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mr. Gei Om and of all other human rights defenders in Myanmar;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Gei Om and all other human rights defenders in Myanmar, as their detention is arbitrary since it only aims at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Gei Om, and all other human rights defenders in Myanmar, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular with its Articles 1 and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards.

Addresses:

• Mr. Win Myint, President of Myanmar; Twitter: @pomyanmar
• Lt. Gen Soe Htut, Minister of Home Affairs; Email: mohamyanmar@gmail.com
• Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Twitter: @MyanmarSC
• Mr. Hla Myint, Chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission; Email: mdjcwg13@gmail.com
• Tun Tun Oo, Union Attorney General; Email: ago.h.o@mptmail.net.mm
• Brig Gen Aung Win Oo, Director General, Myanmar Police Force, Ministry of Home Affairs; Email: mpfserver@gmail.com; epolice@myanmarpoliceforce.org
• HE Mr. Kyaw Moe Tun, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland; Email: mission@myanmargeneva.org
• Embassy of Myanmar in Brussels, Belgium; Email: mebrussels@skynet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Myanmar in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, September 25, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and OMCT. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals[at]fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29


[1] The Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability is a network of over 400 civil society organizations and individuals who work on natural resource governance advocacy across all states of Myanmar. This entails working on extractive governance and promoting transparency and accountability of the exploitation of natural resources and its benefits to the broader public.

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