Memorandum Submitted To Prime Minister of India on 11yrs detention of Burmese freedom fighters in Indian jails - (Feb 11, 2009)

To
Shri Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
Government of India
11 February 2009

Dear Prime Minister,

Subject: Eleven years detention of Burmese freedom fighters in Indian jails.

We are representatives of Burmese pro-democracy and ethnic organizations who have been living in India ever since the military junta in Burma cracked down the peaceful nation-wide uprising for democracy in 1988. We are grateful that the Government of India and the people of India have allowed us to take shelter in this world's largest democracy for twenty years now. Without the support and solidarity of India, we would have been either killed or imprisoned in Burma.

However, we are submitting this memorandum to you about a case in which we strongly feel that the world's largest democracy and Burma's historical friend has continued to neglect the plight of Burmese who struggle for democracy, human rights and liberty. We are referring to the 34 Burmese freedom fighters languishing in Presidency Jail in Kolkata, West Bengal.

Today, 11 February completes the eleventh anniversary of their detention in Indian jails.

Dear Sir,

As you are well aware, India has supported the movement for the restoration of democracy and had even given her highest award to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. India was the first neighboring country that extended the support to the Burmese democracy movement after the 1988 uprising. There are long and deep links between the Indian and Burmese people. Although India does not recognize the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), it has allowed National League for Democracy (NLD) MPs to stay in India and also allowed the Burmese to carry out political activities.

India had allowed the Arakans to have a base in the North East state of Mizoram from where they could carry out operations into Burma. Even after the Indian policy had changed and India had closer relationship with the military junta the Indian intelligence agencies continued to work closely with the Arakans.

In 1995 the Arakans began negotiating with the Government of India for a base in Andaman Islands. At this point they were handled by an Indian Military Intelligence agent, Lt Col V.J.S Grewal who was born in Burma and spoke the language fluently. The negotiations were completed in 1997 and Grewal informed the Arakans that India would give them a base at Landfall Islands, which is the northern most island of the Andaman group of islands.

 

In the meanwhile the Karen National Union (KNU) also joined the Arakans and India did not object to this arrangement. Finally Grewal invited the Arakans and Karens to Landfall Islands and accordingly they arrived on February 10th 1998. The next day the Indian Military Intelligence agent took six of the Burmese leaders into the jungles on the pretext of taking them to a helipad where senior Indian military officers would be coming and shot them and the rest were arrested and detained at Andaman Islands.

The six Burmese freedom fighters who were murdered on that day were: Khaing Raza, Saw Tun, Ran Naign, Pado Mu Lway, Lunn Zan Kahing and Myint Shwe. Four were members of the National United Party of Arakan (NUPA) and two were members of the Karen National Union (the KNU).

This military agent was extremely corrupt and he had betrayed the Burmese after making a deal with the Burmese Military Junta and soon after this Operation he got himself discharged from the Indian army and went to live in Rangoon and is enjoying the hospitality of the Burmese military regime.

All these facts are now in the public domain and have been published extensively in the media. The Solidarity Committee for Burma's Freedom Fighters led by Dr. Lakshmi Sehgal has brought out two publications. The first is entitled: Why are Burmese freedom Fighters in an Indian Jail? This pamphlet, published in March 2007 contains all the facts about the case. The second publication is entitled Celebrating Solidarity which was brought out on the occasion of Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi's birthday and it has reproduced letters from all the major Burmese resistance groups expressing their concern over the fate of the Burmese freedom fighters in an Indian Jail. Eminent human rights
lawyer Ms Nandita Haksar has written a book "Rogue Agent" published a few days ago by Penguin books India about the whole story. We are submitting the copies of these publications to you.

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

One of the six persons killed was a refugee recognized by the UNHCR and his brother is recognized refugee of the UNHCR in India. He lived in New Delhi India many years as a refugee and just recently resettled to another country. No case has been registered with regard to the murder of the six Burmese freedom fighters.

Soon after the incident, an Indian human rights organization,  South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, sent a lawyer to Port Blair but the jail authorities denied him access. After that the Burmese had no access to any lawyer, they were not even given basic necessities such as soap, toothpaste etc.

In 1999, Burma Lawyers Council (BLC) requested Ms Nandita Haksar, an eminent Indian human rights lawyer who has been helping the Burmese refugees in India to take up the case. She has been handling the case pro bono since that time. In 1999, she went to Port Blair and helped our comrades get bail but the local police again arrested them and kept them inside a house.

Soon after the Burmese freedom fighters got bail, the military attaché of the Myanmar embassy was seen on the flight to Port Blair and we learnt that he wanted the Burmese deported to Rangoon where they would have faced torture and imprisonment and death. Ms Nandita Haksar was informed and with the help of the UNHCR and the National Human Rights Commission the deportation was stopped in time.

From 1998 to 2004 the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) did not file a charge sheet. It was only after Ms Haksar filed a petition as a petitioner in person that the CBI filed a charge sheet. However, in the meantime the young woman lawyer assisting Ms Haksar in Port Blair was murdered.

The atmosphere in Port Blair was not at all conducive to having a fair trial so it was decided to file a petition for the transfer of the case to Kolkata and in 2006 the Supreme Court transferred it and directed that a trail be conducted on a day-to-day basis.

In October 2006 the Burmese were shipped to Kolkata and they were put into jail there, which is called Presidency Correctional Home.

Just before the trial was to begin in December 2006 the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) got the West Bengal Government to issue a notice stating that they apprehended a disturbance and also there was a "threat of media interest" in the case so the trial should be held inside the jail. The notice was issued on December 15th and three days later the jail authorities instigated 400 convicts to attack our Burmese comrades in jail. Many of our comrades got seriously injured. The entire incident is described by Thein Oung Gyaw in his letter to Ms Haksar and published in the pamphlet entitled "Celebrating Solidarity".

With many eminent citizens intervened in the situation, the West Bengal Government took back its notice and trial began in open court. However, suddenly the Judge stopped the media from entering the court. But only a few prosecution witnesses had testified before the Judge hearing the case was transferred and from August 2007 to 16 June 2008 when the trial resumed with a new judge. After few proceedings, the presiding judge was again transferred and the trial resumed on 15 September 2008 and it continues till today. It is shocking that our comrades should be denied a speedy trial despite the Indian criminal law and a specific direction of the Supreme Court of India to conduct the trail on a day-to-day basis.

In the meanwhile the Calcutta Jail authorities filed a false case against one of the Burmese freedom fighters, Thein Oung Kyaw. He was charged with attacking a jail official (the incident instigated by jail authorities in December 2006). He faced a full trial and has been now acquitted after the intervention of the Solidarity Committee.

In April 2008, there was a Bengali-Burmese Friendship Football Match in support of these 34 Burmese freedom fighters in Kolkata. The football matches were organized by Sports Department of West Bengal Government and Solidarity Committee for Burma's Freedom Fighters. In the inauguration, the Chairman of the Left Front (West Bengal) Mr Biman Bose, along with seven Cabinet Ministers, demanded the immediate release of these 34 Burmese freedom fighters from jail.

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

The trial of the Burmese freedom fighters has been going on in at the City Sessions Court in Kolkata for more than two years now. Meanwhile, our comrades continue to be in jail. As you know, we are refugees in India and we survive with very difficult conditions in India. Supporting our comrades in jail with soap and tooth brushes has even become a heavy burden for our small community in India, let alone trying to maintain the lawyers who in fact take very little professional fees in solidarity with the Burmese movement.

We believe that at the end of the trial, our 34 Burmese freedom fighters will be acquitted for a lack of evidence (and there is none). However, they still cannot be released since they have no documents to stay in India or to travel. And they cannot be deported to Burma because they will be killed in Burma by the Junta.

Therefore, we would like to request the Government of India:

(1) To release the 34 Burmese freedom fighters immediately from jail and allow them to take shelter in India as India has allowed us to live in India with a human dignity for twenty years.

(2) To ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to grant the 34 Burmese freedom fighters with refugee status immediately.

We believe that the India-Burma long-term friendship will be served and strengthened with this act of solidarity. We seek your urgent personal intervention for the release of the Burmese freedom fighters who have suffered so much in Indian jails for eleven years now.

Sincerely,
Signed by:
Burmese Democratic Forces in India
New Delhi.

 

Copy to:

Smt. Sonia Gandhi
Hon'ble President
Indian National Congress
      And UPA Chairperson
       Shri Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Hon'ble Chief Minister,
West Bengal
Shri P. Chidambaram
Hon'ble Home Minister, India
Shri Pranab Mukherjee
Hon'ble Foreign Minister, India
Shri A. K. Antony
Hon'ble Defense Minister, India