Mondiaal FNV launches campaign in solidarity with union leader facing unlawful trial in Myanmar

Since the military coup in Myanmar on 01 February 2021, trade unionist and human rights defenders have been constantly under threat. Mondiaal FNV supports the Burmese workers’ fight to regain democracy and ensure that fundamental rights are respected. The trade union support organisation has launched a solidarity and fundraising campaign for Thet Hnin Aung, a trade union leader, who has been unlawfully imprisoned and prosecuted.

By Ruben Korevaar, Mondiaal FNV

Last year’s coup in Myanmar has led to a serious deterioration of the rule of law, leading to very harsh living and working conditions across the country. Trade unions and civil society organisations have been declared illegal, forcing them to work underground. Moreover, the junta is suspected of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Mondiaal FNVhas a long-standing cooperation history with the trade union movement in Myanmar. Previous to the coup, this support had led to the strengthening of national trade unions such as Myanmar Industries, Crafts & Services Trade Union Federations (MICS) and the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) . Support was given to enhance social dialogue processes, such as the tripartite dialogue to amend national labour law, increase the legal minimum wage, and labour court reform. Today, in face of the situation in the country, Mondiaal FNV is deeply concerned about the state of labour rights in Myanmar, and the security of trade unionists and labour rights activists.

Unfair trial for Thet Hnin Aung

In particular, Mondiaal FNV is actively engaged in supporting the defence of Thet Hnin Aung, the General Secretary of MICS who was arrested on 18 June after taking part in a demonstration. He was put into custody and tortured without any legal ground. The military junta accused him of ‘membership of an unlawful organisation’ which can lead up to 20 years in prison. Unfortunately, Thet’s situation is not unique. Many trade union members and human rights defenders are arrested, and their families often threatened.

Even within prison, Thet Hnin Aung continues to fight for justice. On International Human Rights Day he and fellow prison companions protested peacefully by singing solidarity songs and refusing to leave their room. As a result, he was put in an isolation cell for a couple of weeks. Because the regime labelled trade unions as illegal organisations, they now work underground. As a result, many leaders, shop stewards and active members went into hiding. Some must seek a safe shelter frequently, bury their computers or telephones to protect themselves in case they are caught. Often their families are intimidated, and their belongings burned or taken away.

Fortunately, and despite all challenges, a couple of collective labour agreements with factory owners have been concluded last year! “It is very inspiring to see that, despite the enormous intimidation by the army, use of force and severe human rights violations, people like Thet Hnin Aung keep standing for their principles and continue to fight for justice, human rights and labour standards, even at the risk of their own lives,” said Ruben Korevaar, policy advisor at Mondiaal NV.

Solidarity campaign

Mondiaal FNV has launched a solidarity campaign for Thet Hnin Aung through which people can write to Thet and show their support. Several letters have already been sent out but more is needed to make sure he receives a fair trial and will be acquitted. For this reason, Mondiaal FNV is raising money to cover the legal expenses of Thet’s trial as well as others if enough support is coming in. The organisation hopes to raise at least €25,000 to cover the costs of Thet’s attorney and raise awareness of his difficult situation and those of others facing arrest and an unfair trial.

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