Garden Court Chambers is delighted to announce the success of the Freedom of Expression Law Clinic

Wednesday 7 January 2015

In December 2014, nine law students graduated from a first-of-its-kind law clinic based at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb. The closing ceremony was attended by the President of the Constitutional Court of Croatia, Dr Jasna Omejec.

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The students prepared petitions on behalf of Nguyen Dang Minh Man, a young imprisoned Vietnamese blogger and Tin San, the imprisoned CEO of the Unity Magazine in Myanmar. The petitions have been filed with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The petitions allege that both Nguyen Dang Minh Man and Tin San were subject to patently unfair trials for exercising their right to freedom of expression. By using the smokescreen of endangering national security, the Vietnam and Myanmar Governments are attempting to justify the unjustifiable: shutting down legitimate journalistic activities that are in the public interest.

The second petitioner, Nguyen Dan Minh Man, was arrested in July 2011 for her work as a photo-journalist. She had reported on demonstrations that were deemed to be ‘subversive’ and is serving a nine-year prison sentence. She was recently put in solitary confinement and, in November, went on hunger strike. Minh Man’s condition is precarious and it is of utmost importance that the UN Working Group takes urgent action in her case. More information can be found in Minh Man’s petition.

The Unity Magazine is one of Myanmar's few independent current affairs weeklies. Tin San, its CEO, is serving a seven-year prison sentence with hard labour for an investigative report on a chemical weapons factory that had been built on land confiscated from local farmers. The report was deemed to contravene the Burma Official Secrets Act of 1923: colonial-era legislation that was initially introduced to suppress the independence movement and has not been repealed. The story had significant public interest as Myanmar has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and, therefore, is not subject to the international inspection regime. More information can be found in Tin San’s petition.

The law clinic itself was a unique collaboration between four international partners: the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb; the Programme on Comparative Media Law and Policy, University of Oxford; the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI); and Garden Court Chambers. The law clinic created an innovative model in order to give the students a truly international experience. Nine students enrolled in a 10-week programme based in Zagreb. Utilising the university’s e-learning platform, the students had the benefit of specialist video and Skype lectures from experts at the University of Oxford, such as Dr Paolo Cavaliere, and the University of Zagreb. Additionally, podcasts on professional ethics and conduct for human rights lawyers were created by Smita Shah of Garden Court Chambers. Clinical legal supervision for work on the petitions for the students’ respective clients was conducted via Skype by Nani Jansen, Legal Director at MLDI, Iva Kustrak at University  of Zagreb, and Smita Shah.

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