BANGKOK — During his a long time as a lawyer in Myanmar, U Khin Maung Zaw has misplaced almost all of his circumstances. It is a document that fills him with pleasure.
“My motto, and the motto of human rights lawyers in Myanmar, is simple,” he mentioned. “The case is lost, but the cause is won.”
Mr. Khin Maung Zaw, 73, is now representing 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 embody partaking in sedition and corruption, violating a pure catastrophe administration legislation 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 remaining of her life.
For months after being employed to symbolize her, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw was not in a position to meet Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. He has been allowed to see her on solely 4 events, for 30 minutes every time.
“It is not so perfect,” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned. “We must be careful with the time.”
Myanmar’s judicial system is decidedly imperfect. There is a paucity of justice and a plethora of paperwork, almost all of it nonetheless processed by typewriter because the laptop age has bypassed the nation’s authorized paperwork. Judges lack independence. Since the coup, dozens of attorneys have been imprisoned and almost 900 civilians have been killed.
None of this has stopped Mr. Khin Maung Zaw, whose reverence for the legislation appears to exist in inverse proportion to its simply utility in Myanmar.
A protester holding a portrait of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s ousted civilian chief.Credit…The New York Times
“Maybe people will think, ‘It is not so good to hire him, because he loses all his cases,’” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned of himself. “But, you know, they have no choice. They are stuck 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 some of the fizz from the independence celebrations.
Within just a few years, Burma, later renamed Myanmar, was beset by a communist insurgency. Ethnic minorities threatened to secede from the union. An military coup in 1962 started a long time dominated by navy rule.
Mr. Khin Maung Zaw’s mother and father, 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.
But Mr. Khin Maung Zaw nonetheless carried his mom’s revolutionary zeal. He thought-about his father a “capitalist traitor.” As a 17-year-old at Mandalay University, 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 Universal 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. Only after dozens of political prisoners, together with Mr. Khin Maung Zaw, launched starvation strikes — eight individuals starved after 56 days — was the penal colony shut.
Mr. Khin Maung Zaw outdoors court docket in Naypyidaw in February. Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
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 an additional 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-about historical past and ended up learning legislation. He was 37 by the point he bought his legislation diploma from Mandalay University.
“I thought maybe it would be good if I was arrested again or my friends got arrested,” he mentioned.
While his classmates grew to become judges or prosecutors, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw took the circumstances 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 good 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 workforce and half of a decent corps of human rights attorneys within the nation.
Earlier this century, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw tangled straight with the navy when he defended a whole lot of farmers who misplaced land after the junta shifted the capital from Yangon to a sizzling plateau in central Myanmar. Most of the farmers had no land titles however had labored their fields for generations. They have been charged with trespassing. Some have been jailed for talking out.
A handout photograph made obtainable by Myanmar’s Ministry of Information displaying Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in court docket in May. Credit…EPA, by way of Shutterstock
Today, Naypyidaw is one of the world’s most surreal capitals, an empty expanse punctuated by grandiose buildings which are already falling into disrepair. Some of the previous farmers have taken jobs sweeping the broad avenues that crisscross the capital. There is little visitors to disturb their brooms.
When Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy gained elections in 2015, starting a precarious power-sharing with the navy, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw distanced himself from the political celebration.
“I don’t trust any government anywhere, because I have roots in communism,” he mentioned. “The law, the Parliament, they are all tools of the ruling class, so I decided to stay quite far away.”
In 2017, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw took on the case of two Reuters reporters who have 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 1,000,000 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 was in opposition to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for many things,” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned. “I have an ethical duty to trust the law, but in my experience I have found that the judiciary during the last few years was not so reliable.”
A protest in Yangon in April over the navy’s ouster of the civilian authorities.Credit…The New York Times
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 have been politically motivated.
“I have stood against her, but whatever she is, she is still the democratically elected leader and a symbol of democracy in our country,” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned. “Whatever her defects, whatever differences we have, I will stand for her stoutly, because when the military took power they destroyed democracy.”
The first of the judgments towards Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is predicted in mid-August, however timings usually 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 good, but no matter what he does in this case, the judge will rule as ordered by the military,” mentioned U Kyee Myint, one other veteran human rights lawyer.
In May, a lawyer representing different detained members of Myanmar’s elected authorities was arrested at a courthouse. Knowing the dangers, Mr. Khin Maung Zaw went into hiding after taking over Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s case. But after a pair of months, he returned residence. 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 had no youngsters.
“I have no distractions or family that they can use to restrain me,” Mr. Khin Maung Zaw mentioned. “I am free, free to dedicate myself to the law.”