BANGKOK--A Burmese court has sentenced six opposition activists to jail terms ranging from two to 13 years in connection with mass protests against the military government last year, according to one of the group's defense lawyers.
The convictions were handed down on a range of charges in connection with the September 2007 anti-government demonstrations that became known as the Saffron Revolution, lawyer Myint Thwin said.
Activists Win Mya Mya and Kan Tun both received 12-year sentences, while Min Thu received 13 years, Than Lwin received eight years, and Win Shwe received 11 years. Tin Ko received a two-year sentence, the lawyer said.
Myint Thwin said lawyers for the group would appeal. They were sentenced Friday inside Mandalay Obo jail where their lawyers say they have been held for a year. Family members of the accused were barred from attendance, the lawyer said.
All the defendants are members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The rule of law is weak in this instance--they didn't commit any of the crimes they were sentenced for," NLD spokesman Nyan Win said.
"It is impossible to charge them because there is no way they could have been responsible for instigating a march of that size."
Myint Thwin complained that the court used a recording of Win Mya Mya's voice from a year ago that should have been inadmissible under Burmese criminal law, and that the court combined four charges against Win Mya Mya to reach a 12-year sentence.
Myint Thwin said last week that authorities had barred key witnesses from testifying for the defense.
During the trial at Aung Mye Thazan township court in Burma's central city of Mandalay, prosecutors argued that the defendants were in fact arrested in September and October 2008, not 2007 as the defense claimed.
The defense called several supervisors from Mandalay Obo jail where they have been held, along with two police officers, to testify that all six defendants had been jailed for a year or more, Myint Thwin said, but police declined to serve their summonses.
"We also submitted as defense witnesses the prison warden, the prison superintendent, the police commander from the Shwezar Yan police unit...to attest that the defendants had been jailed since 2007," he said.
The court issued their summonses, he said, "but the information unit of the police force, the Special Branch, which is prosecuting this case, took away the papers, said they weren't in order, and without bringing the witnesses to court, rejected them."
"They said that the prison warden wasn't around because he had gone to Rangoon, and the prison superintendent was out of town on duty and had work-related meetings to attend. Therefore they couldn't come to the court."
Three defense witnesses were allowed to testify before the court according to Myint Thwin: Win Mya Mya's elder brother and younger sister, and also Tin Ko's wife.
But defense lawyers Myo Swe, Shwe Hla, and Myint Thwin had to make final arguments on Oct. 20, without testimony from the prison witnesses, he said.
"It is important for them to tell the truth. If they were arrested in 2007, [they should] say so, and say that the case was filed only now," Myint Thwin said. "They should not do things that will make people lose their trust in them."
Closed trials began earlier this month in the former capital, Rangoon, of 37 political activists and dissidents on a range of charges. Among the defendants are many leaders of the 1988 student uprising against the junta.
Burmese sources said those trials from Hlaing Tharyar and Kamaryut townships jurisdictions are being held inside the notorious Insein prison.
Original reporting by RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written in English by Joshua Lipes and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.