Politics

The curious tale of two British prisoners

FCO is silent on another case of rough justice involving a British citizen jailed in Myanmar

As academic Matthew Hedges enjoys Christmas with his family after Foreign Office intervention, Yvonne Ridley wonders why the FCO is silent on another case of rough justice involving a British citizen jailed in Myanmar

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Concern is growing for a 31-year-old British man who is serving a 17-year jail sentence following a highly questionable trial in Myanmar.

However, unlike the recent Matthew Hedges’ case in the United Arab Emirates, there is little media interest and what appears to be even less concern from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office despite striking parallels of injustice.

Both the Durham University academic, given a life sentence for spying, and Niranjan Rasalingam, an accountant from Croydon, have been extremely vocal about their innocence.

Both men were denied justice in the way of court translators, transparent judicial process and access to lawyers.

Both men have said they were submitted to torture and abuse by the regimes which held them.

Niranjan Rasalingam was held in prison in Myanmar for more than a year without charge before he was put through a trial and sentenced to 17 years in jail in a case that has attracted international criticism from human rights groups.

However, Matthew Hedges was given a pardon after robust intervention by the British Foreign Office yet after several attempts to ask the FCO for comment on Niranjan Rasalingam’s case there has been complete silence. Apart from two separate acknowledgements that WTX News has submitted questions about the Rasalingam case, the FCO appears unwilling to respond.

All I wanted to know is when did British consular officials last visit Rasalingham and what actions are being taken to help him.

I’m really concerned at what I can only describe as a lack of concern from the British Foreign Office in the accountant’s case and equally baffled why the two men’s cases are being treated quite differently by the government. Obviously, it will have nothing to do with the fact Niranjan Rasalingam is a man of colour, surely but it would be reassuring to see the sort of robust action being taken that we witnessed when the UAE sentenced Matthew Hedges to life in prison.

As more than 700,000 Rohingya can testify from the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, justice is not a concept familiar in the brutal Myanmar regime.

Niranjan Rasalingam, an accountant from Croydon, was arrested in 2014 alongside three Indian nationals on suspicion of stealing 25.2m kyats (£13,744) using cloned ATM cards in Yangon. While the Indian Government has moved swiftly to get justice for their citizens the same can not be said of the British FCO.

A very confused and lengthy trial ended in a 17-year sentence for Rasalingam on June 16 last year. The court didn’t even wait for his lawyer to arrive and make a defence while his translator had already left the courtroom when sentencing was announced.

He was apparently told he could reduce his sentence to nine years if he paid a 400 lakh (£23,000) fine. Throughout the trial, he denied the allegations against him.

His British lawyer Michael Polak told me: “It is very worrying that Mr Rasalingam has been convicted after a trial process which can only be described as a gross miscarriage of justice and the lack of due process has continued into sentencing where he has been sentenced to 17 years using an aggregation of sentences which is unlawful under domestic Burmese law.

“All those with the power to raise this case must do so immediately as Mr Rasalingam is being subject to mistreated and should be returned to the United Kingdom.’On top of that he’s serving his sentence under inhumane conditions at the country’s infamous Insein prison, where he said last year he was assaulted by another prisoner.”

After his conviction, Rasalingam told The Guardian (the only mainstream media that I believe has taken an interest in his plight): “Life in Insein prison is hell on earth – the conditions, the corruption and the danger. 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 he was in Myanmar as a broker for a holiday reservation website and as for his three co-accused, he says he knew only one of the Indian nationals he was arrested with and that was via a family friend.

The Indian embassy has filed a complaint to the Myanmar foreign ministry about treatment and the trio’s legal team insist that the three were not even in Myanmar on November 16 2014, when the crime was allegedly committed. A complaint by Myanmar bank Kanbawza Bank Limited (KBZ) led to the four men’s arrest but KBZ has not responded to repeated requests by media for comment.

If something dodgy is happening in this case then it must be called out. I’ve never been able to remain silent in the face of injustice, something which does not appear to trouble the British government which seems selective on such issues.

Mercifully British-born academic Matthew Hedges was freed by a pardon from the UAE’s president after the Foreign Office demanded his release. There was certainly nothing quiet going on ‘behind the scenes’ when the FCO learned Mr Hedges had been convicted of spying, the case of injustice made headlines and rightly so.

Like Rasalingam, the academic spent months without access to a lawyer or translator while vehemently denying the charges laid against him, but unlike Hedges, it seems he has been abandoned by his country.

………….

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