• Tuesday, Nov 24, 2020
  • Last Update : 07:28 am

‘This is hell’, says British man held in Myanmar

  • Published at 10:10 am February 9th, 2016

A 29-year-old man from Britain has been held in Myanmar’s most notorious jail for 14 months without formally being charged with any crime, he has told the Guardian.

Niranjan Rasalingam, an accountant from Croydon, was arrested in December 2014 alongside three Indian nationals on suspicion of stealing 25.2 million kyats (£13,744) using cloned ATM cards in Yangon.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian in an interview conducted through his legal team, Rasalingam denied the allegations against him and said he was being kept under inhumane conditions in jail.

“Life in Insein prison is hell on earth – the conditions, the corruption and the danger,” he said, adding he had been physically assaulted by another prisoner.

“I have paid to get a bed and bedding and friends from the UK have sent money to me to try to get a few comforts like additional food and toiletries,” he said.

Rasalingam said authorities had transported him to different courts around the country every two weeks to be repeatedly “remanded”. This process allowed the police to legally keep him detained for months, he said.

Until the Briton is formally charged with a crime, he cannot defend himself.

Susan Garbutt, who worked as vice-consul at the British embassy in Yangon until April 2015, has been helping Rasalingam.

She said she had cleared the transactions with the UK police as legitimate, as pre-paid cards Rasalingam bought were from the UK, and said the money withdrawn was closer to £970.

Rasalingam said he was in Myanmar as a broker for a holiday reservation website and was looking to set up a small office in the country. He said he knew only one of the three Indian nationals he was arrested with, through a family friend.

The legal team for the four men has argued that two of the Indian nationals were not even in Myanmar on 16 November, when the crime was allegedly committed, but arrived two days later.

A member of the Indian diaspora in Myanmar confirmed that the Indian embassy had filed a complaint to the Myanmar foreign ministry but had not heard back.

A complaint by Myanmar bank Kanbawza Bank Limited (KBZ) led to the four men’s arrest, Rasalingam’s legal team said. KBZ did not respond to a Guardian request for comment.

When Rasalingam was arrested, he claimed he was denied food for three days and also forbidden consular access, Garbutt added. “He was told that if he didn’t sign paperwork in Burmese admitting to a crime he would be held for a long time,” she said.

“He has not been told when he will be charged,” she added.

The Myanmar government did not respond to a request for comment.

During his time in prison, Rasalingam has seen Garbutt many times, and the new vice-consul has had access twice and the ambassador once, Garbutt said. To visit him, the embassy has to give verbal notice in the capital Naypyidaw, she added.

The British embassy told Garbutt last month that it would raise Rasalingam’s case with Myanmar authorities to ask why the detention has dragged well beyond the expected standard, she said.

But she added: “The UK government has said it cannot interfere in the Burmese legal system. There seems to be a reluctance to get involved as it would set a precedent.”

Despite Rasalingam’s consent for the British government to speak on his case, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has, until now, not publicly condemned his lengthy incarceration.

An FCO spokesman told the Guardian this week it had “raised this case with the Burmese government on a number of occasions, setting out our concerns over his health and delays in the legal process”.

The spokesman added: “While we cannot directly intervene in the judicial process of another country, we will continue to urge for progress in taking this case forward and will remain in close contact with Mr Rasalingam’s lawyers.”

Last summer, Garbutt told Rasalingam’s MP, Gavin Barwell, of the case. Barwell then wrote to Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire.

Swire replied in a letter that the FCO had written to the Myanmar government to express “concern that the embassy was not properly notified of Mr Niranjan’s arrest” and also reiterated the UK’s interest in the case.

“However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our embassies cannot interfere in the legal processes of other countries, just as we expect them to respect the UK’s laws and legal processes,” Swire said in a letter dated 8 June 2015.

Barwell followed up with documents on the detention that he said might show a “clear breach of process” in Rasalingam’s case, notably that additional accusations against him have been repeatedly used to keep him in jail without formal charges.

Swire responded on 1 August:“Our officials need to study the material closely and will liaise with the lawyers in Rangoon as to the next steps.”

Six months later, Rasalingam remains in Insein jail.

“You do not have to be guilty of any crime to end up in prison here. There is no such thing as justice here,” he said. “Please help us, this is hell.”

blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail