BANGKOK — Throughout his a long time as a lawyer in Myanmar, U Khin Maung Zaw has misplaced practically all of his instances. It’s a report that fills him with delight.
“My motto, and the motto of human rights attorneys in Myanmar, is straightforward,” he mentioned. “The case is misplaced, however the trigger is gained.”
Mr. Khin Maung Zaw, 73, is now representing yet one more shopper who’s unlikely to obtain a good trial: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the 76-year-old civilian chief of Myanmar whose elected authorities was toppled by a military coup in February.
The crimes she has been charged with embrace partaking in sedition and corruption, violating a pure catastrophe administration regulation and importing walkie-talkies with out correct licenses. If convicted, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who earlier spent 15 years underneath home arrest, might be locked up for the remainder of her life.
For months after being employed to signify her, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw was not capable of meet Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. He has been allowed to see her on solely 4 events, for half-hour every time.
“It’s not so good,” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned. “We should be cautious with the time.”
Myanmar’s judicial system is decidedly imperfect. There’s a paucity of justice and a plethora of paperwork, practically all of it nonetheless processed by typewriter for the reason that laptop age has bypassed the nation’s authorized paperwork. Judges lack independence. Because the coup, dozens of attorneys have been imprisoned and practically 900 civilians have been killed.
None of this has stopped Mr. Khin Maung Zaw, whose reverence for the regulation appears to exist in inverse proportion to its simply utility in Myanmar.
“Perhaps folks will assume, ‘It’s not so good to rent him, as a result of he loses all his instances,’” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned of himself. “However, , they don’t have any alternative. They’re caught with me.”
Mr. Khin Maung Zaw was born in a logging city in central Myanmar lower than two weeks after the nation of Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948. The assassination months earlier than of eight of the nation’s independence heroes, together with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, sucked a few of the fizz from the independence celebrations.
Inside a number of years, Burma, later renamed Myanmar, was beset by a communist insurgency. Ethnic minorities threatened to secede from the union. A military coup in 1962 started a long time dominated by navy rule.
Mr. Khin Maung Zaw’s dad and mom, each ethnic minorities, joined the communist motion. His mom, a extra fervent comrade than her husband, died when Mr. Khin Maung Zaw was an toddler. His father drifted from his socialist beliefs and have become a profitable timber service provider.
However Mr. Khin Maung Zaw nonetheless carried his mom’s revolutionary zeal. He thought of his father a “capitalist traitor.” As a 17-year-old at Mandalay College, he tried to type a pupil union, one thing that had been banned in the course of the despotic rule of Gen. Ne Win. He printed and handed out copies of the Common Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations doc that was revealed the yr Burma and Mr. Khin Maung Zaw got here into being.
For his activism, he was despatched to a jail camp on the Coco Islands, a tropical gulag archipelago within the Bay of Bengal. Solely after dozens of political prisoners, together with Mr. Khin Maung Zaw, launched starvation strikes — eight folks starved after 56 days — was the penal colony shut.
In 1972, he was launched from jail and returned to his research. A yr later, he joined a pupil protest and was imprisoned for a yr, then for one more two years in 1978. All in all, he spent 9 years in jail.
Mr. Khin Maung Zaw had gone to school to review geology, then dabbled in literature, thought of historical past and ended up learning regulation. He was 37 by the point he bought his regulation diploma from Mandalay College.
“I believed perhaps it will be good if I used to be arrested once more or my mates bought arrested,” he mentioned.
Whereas his classmates grew to become judges or prosecutors, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw took the instances that few others would. He racked up a large assortment of defeats, defending murderers, rapists and political prisoners. The third class, he mentioned, was probably the most hopeless.
“He’s a great lawyer who bravely faces the unfair justice system in Myanmar,” mentioned Daw Min Min Soe, one other member of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s authorized group and a part of a decent corps of human rights attorneys within the nation.
Earlier this century, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw tangled immediately with the navy when he defended lots of of farmers who misplaced land after the junta shifted the capital from Yangon to a sizzling plateau in central Myanmar. Many of the farmers had no land titles however had labored their fields for generations. They had been charged with trespassing. Some had been jailed for talking out.
Immediately, Naypyidaw is among the world’s most surreal capitals, an empty expanse punctuated by grandiose buildings which are already falling into disrepair. A few of the former farmers have taken jobs sweeping the broad avenues that crisscross the capital. There’s little site visitors to disturb their brooms.
When Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nationwide League for Democracy gained elections in 2015, starting a precarious power-sharing with the navy, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw distanced himself from the political get together.
“I don’t belief any authorities wherever, as a result of I’ve roots in communism,” he mentioned. “The regulation, the Parliament, they’re all instruments of the ruling class, so I made a decision to remain fairly far-off.”
In 2017, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw took on the case of two Reuters reporters who had been imprisoned after uncovering a bloodbath of Rohingya Muslims. That yr, the navy had launched a marketing campaign of homicide, rape and arson, driving three-quarters of one million Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto chief of the civilian authorities, defended the military. She snapped at a former U.N. envoy who urged the discharge of the reporters. They spent greater than 500 days in jail.
“I used to be in opposition to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for a lot of issues,” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned. “I’ve an moral obligation to belief the regulation, however in my expertise I’ve discovered that the judiciary throughout the previous few years was not so dependable.”
After the navy staged its coup within the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 1, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw watched in alarm as Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was accused of a litany of expenses that he believes had been politically motivated.
“I’ve stood in opposition to her, however no matter she is, she continues to be the democratically elected chief and an emblem of democracy in our nation,” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned. “No matter her defects, no matter variations we’ve got, I’ll stand for her stoutly, as a result of when the navy took energy they destroyed democracy.”
The primary of the judgments in opposition to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is predicted in mid-August, however timings typically shift. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s first listening to was introduced so abruptly that Mr. Khin Maung Zaw didn’t get to the courthouse in time.
“U Khin Maung Zaw is nice, however it doesn’t matter what he does on this case, the choose will rule as ordered by the navy,” mentioned U Kyee Myint, one other veteran human rights lawyer.
In Might, a lawyer representing different detained members of Myanmar’s elected authorities was arrested at a courthouse. Figuring out the dangers, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw went into hiding after taking over Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s case. However after a few months, he returned dwelling. He has solely his personal security to protect, he mentioned. His father died a decade in the past, his spouse 4 years in the past. They’d no youngsters.
“I’ve no distractions or household that they’ll use to restrain me,” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned. “I’m free, free to dedicate myself to the regulation.”