The Asian Human Rights Commission has obtained a copy of an open letter in which a senior legal expert in Burma has alleged that police drugged his client during interrogation. The signed letter of 20 January 2011 by U Aung Thein asks, “Does the law permit the feeding of amphetamines in investigation of political cases?” According to Aung Thein his client U Zeya has told him that during 20 days he was interrogated, he experienced a lack of hunger, heightened energy and lessened drowsiness, as well as a loss of concern to deny the allegations that the police put to him, replaced by a willingness to agree with everything they suggested. He also said that during the 20 days he went to urinate only three or four times.
Zeya, 58, is facing three charges, as is his son, following the arrest of the latter for taking photographs at the site of a bomb blast in April 2010. The AHRC has been following the case closely and will issue an appeal with details shortly. His legal advisor Aung Thein had his Supreme Court advocate’s licence revoked after being imprisoned along with a colleague for contempt of court in late 2009, having put in writing that some clients wished to withdraw their power of attorney because they had lost faith in the judicial system. The AHRC set up a special webpage on that case: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/burma-lawyers/
Aung Thein and Zeya suspect that the accused man was given some kind of amphetamine in drinking water supplied while in custody. Aung Thein notes that this is not the first case in which a client has alleged that he was drugged during interrogation, and the AHRC also has received details of such cases, including one in which an accused said that he was injected with an unknown substance.
In a country awash with cheap drugs, large quantities of which pass through the hands of the police with few procedures and resources to monitor their storage and contents, not only do Aung Thein’s specific allegations deserve serious attention, but they also raise the question of how prevalent the practice of drugging persons during criminal investigation really is. The AHRC has observed in the past that methods of torture normally associated with political cases are also found in ordinary criminal cases, and it is reasonable to expect that the use of narcotic drugs too is also part of more widespread interrogation methods.
The Asian Human Rights Commission urges international agencies working in Burma, and on Burma from abroad, especially agencies concerned with health and medicine, to take up this question of the alleged use of drugs in criminal investigations directly with the country’s authorities. As the new parliament is due to sit in a matter of days, the question could also be put to its members. Ideally, a special inquiry should be established to investigate these specific allegations and also to make a more general, thorough examination of the issue. Given that current political and institutional conditions prohibit the likelihood of any such inquiry being established or, in the unlikely event that it were, of doing anything other than absolving the police of guilt, at this stage the emphasis should be upon bringing the issue to high-level notice, and keeping it as a top priority for public debate and further documentation.
Also, since the allegations relate to abuses of human rights committed while under custody, they again present an opportunity for all concerned agencies and individuals to press for the International Committee of the Red Cross to be allowed to resume its visits to places of detention in Burma. The denial of access to the ICRC is related to the alleged drugging of accused persons, since both relate to an official mentality that nobody has a right to know what really goes on behind the closed doors of police stations and prisons. Where even the principle of an outside agency confidentially monitoring detainees’ conditions in accordance with a globally established mandate is unacceptable, there is no chance of anyone keeping tabs on what the police do to people in their custody. Acceptance of external monitoring of basic conditions is a prerequisite for allegations like those raised by U Aung Thein to be addressed in any meaningful way.