A British citizen has now been in jail in Burma for two years despite not being convicted of any crime. He has been accused of being part of an international credit card fraud ring. The case of Niranjan Rasalingam is an injustice in and of itself. It also highlights flaws and inefficiencies in Burma’s justice system, which threaten the rights and liberties of everyone in Burma. Niranjan Rasalingham is not receiving a fair trial.
Niranjan Rasalingam is an accountant from Croydon, south London. He says that he travelled to Burma to look at travel industry opportunities.
On 22nd November 2014 Niranjan was stopped by the police while walking in the street outside his hotel. He was questioned, and later taken to his hotel where he showed them his business cards, laptop and phone. The arrest related to withdrawals Niranjan had made at an ATM owned by KBZ Bank.
The police took Niranjan to Seikkan police station where they then starved him for three days while trying to persuade him to sign a document in Burmese which he assumed was a false confession. This amounts to torture. They also refused to allow him access to a lawyer, or access to the British Embassy, which is his right, and violates the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
While he was at the police station, he was shown a number of cards by a manager at KBZ bank. Niranjan claims he had never seen these cards before and did not know anything about them, he says they were not the prepay cards he had brought from the UK. Niranjan does not speak Burmese and the police did not speak English. Niranjan later learned that his translators were also his accusers. They were workers for KBZ bank.
A senior KBZ employee Mr Ashis Sharma (Head of Cards and Electronic Payments) visited him at Seikkan police station and said to him “you are going to be held for a very long time.” In the end, starving and desperate, Niranjan signed the document.
Niranjan was arrested with two Indian men, one of whom Niranjan had met before. Two other Indian men were also accused of being part of a card fraud gang. Niranjan says he did not know them beforehand.
Niranjan claims he had brought ten pre-paid cards with him to Burma, eight were £500.00 cards and two were £1000.00 cards totalling £6000.00. These were to pay for office rent as there are limits on cash which can be brought into Burma. The cards were bought at a Tesco supermarket in New Malden, London, in the UK. British police have confirmed the transactions Niranjan made with the cards were genuine.
The defendants face several cases. One case relates to theft and fraud. One case relates to the electronic transaction law, and one case relates to the immigration act, breaking visa agreements. Immigration cases should only apply if Niranjan and the other men are actually convicted of a crime, so legally should not be being brought forward yet. It is as if their guilt has already been decided.
Niranjan and his co-defendants have been taken to eight different township courts every two weeks to be re-remanded. This is sometimes a two-hour journey standing in the back of a police van with 30 other inmates in up to 40-degree heat, then being put into a cage for the entire day without food. Witnesses at his trial consistently fail to turn up, meaning the trial has to be postponed, and an adequate translator has not been provided, so Niranjan is not even able to follow the evidence against him.
Police blame KBZ bank for the delay, the bank blame the police.
CCTV footage has been shown in court as evidence which it is claimed to be of Niranjan and the others but are of random Indian looking individuals. Even the judge laughed and said that Niranjan and the others were actually much prettier than the CCTV pictures shown as evidence.
British government ministers have failed to intervene to help Niranjan, despite the fact that he is a British citizen. Several British government ministers visiting Burma have not even raised his case with Burmese government officials.
After two years in Burma’s notorious Insein Jail, no end is in sight for Niranjan. He is not being given a fair trial. He has been detained for two years without being convicted of any crime. He is being let down by his government and denied his rights by the Burmese government. If the authorities in Burma are not able to give Niranjan a swift and fair trial, he should be released. The police and justice system in Burma is committing an injustice.
Niranjan’s case also highlights major problems with Burma’s justice system. The pace of legal reform in Burma needs to be sharply accelerated. The government of Burma has received numerous offers of financial and technical assistance to reform the justice system, and they have already received detailed reports and suggestions from international legal organisations, the United Nations and others. The government of Burma must now exercise the political will to fully use this support and swiftly implement reform.
For more information contact:
Mark Farmaner on 07941239640