Burmese Activists Get Stiff Sentences

Burma's military government hands down severe prison sentences to its critics, and more are expected.
2008-11-12
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Burma's prominent labor activist Su Su Nway leads a protest rally in downtown Rangoon, Aug. 28, 2007.
Burma's prominent labor activist Su Su Nway leads a protest rally in downtown Rangoon, Aug. 28, 2007.
AFP

BANGKOK—Burma’s courts have handed down sentences of up to 65 years to more than a dozen members of the country's pro-democracy movement, relatives said.

Fourteen members of the "88 Generation" student pro-democracy movement were given terms of 65 years in prison, while 10 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition movement received eight to 24 years each, according to relatives.

The 14 were convicted of four counts of illegally using electronic media and given 15 years on each charge, plus five years for forming an illegal organization.

They are fighting for the truth and, because of this, I am proud of them.
Dissidents' wife, mother

Most of the sentences, including 12-1/2 years for prominent labor rights activist Su Su Nway, were delivered in closed-court sessions.

At a hearing in Insein Prison, Su Su Nway was sentenced to 12 and 1/2 years imprisonment for her political activities, said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the NLD.

She was arrested in November last year as she tried to paste up a leaflet near a Yangon hotel where a visiting U.N. human rights investigator had been staying.

'Honored and proud'

All were charged in connection with a 2007 protest movement that ended in a military crackdown, in which at least 30 people were killed and thousands detained.

The mother of De Nyein Lin, a student sentenced to 65 years, said that her husband had also been sentenced to 65 years in prison on an unrelated charge. She said she still believed in what both of her family members were fighting for.

"I'm not upset—I am honored and proud. They are fighting for the truth and, because of this, I am proud of them," she said.

"It's not only my husband. Now [the authorities] have my son as well. Let them do what they want, our family won't be discouraged. We will support them no matter what. I told my son and my husband that even when I grow old with grey hair and I am walking with a cane, I will keep coming to see them."

The mother of Pan Deik Tun, another member of the 88 Generation student movement, said she was appalled at Burma's broken justice system.

"I have heard about the sentencing, but not directly from the authorities. They are not like us—they have no sense of fairness and what is just. I am surprised and shocked at how badly they have behaved," she said.

Upcoming elections

The rulings by Burma's military courts suggest the junta isn’t interested in lifting restrictions on political opposition parties in the runup to 2010 elections.

Military leaders have called the elections part of a process that will eventually bring democracy to Burma.

But Western countries have said that if the junta doesn’t  allow political parties to operate and refuses to release the estimated 2,000 political prisoners in the country's jails, the elections would be little more than a show to legitimize continued military rule.

Britain's junior foreign minister, Bill Rammell, condemned the sentences, saying the situation "once again underlines the need for a genuine and inclusive political process."

He called for a lifting of restrictions placed on political parties and the release of detainees, including Nobel laureate and NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"There can be nothing approaching free elections until these steps are taken," Rammell said.

Earlier this week an activist blogger who wrote about the Saffron Revolution received a 20-1/2-year sentence, while a member of an NLD youth group who joined the demonstrations received 19 years.

Saw Wai, a well-known Burmese poet, received two years in jail when the government accused him of defaming the junta in one of his poems.

Original reporting by Nay Lin, Moe Kyaw, Nay Rein Kyaw, and Kyaw Min Htun for RFA's Burmese service. Service director: Nancy Shwe. Written and produced for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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