Burma Cuts Jail Terms

A Burmese appeal court reduces two prison terms as a senior U.N. envoy visits.

KathiAung-305.jpg Undated family photo of Kathi Aung.
Family photo

BANGKOK—Burmese authorities have reduced from 26 years to 10 years the prison term handed down to the wife of an activist involved in helping victims of Tropical Cyclone Nargis, according to her lawyer.

Another activist, Wai Myo Htoo, also had his sentenced reduced from 26 to 10 years, their lawyer, Myint Thwin, said in an interview. Both are held at Mandalay Prison.

“The order was passed today,” Myint Thwin said Feb. 17. “The Division Court reduced Kathi Aung's prison term by 16 years, so it remains only 10 years. The court combined all the charges into one and commuted the sentence."

The order was passed today.”

Lawyer Myint Thwin

The United Nations envoy on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is currently in Burma on his second visit to the country since taking that office in May 2008.

Ojea Quintana visited Karen state, where U.N. and human rights groups say the military has committed atrocities against rebels and minorities, and expects to also visit Rakhine state, home to the Rohingya Muslim minority.

On Monday, a Burmese source said, the envoy met with five political prisoners at Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison: student leader Kyaw Ko Ko, lawyer Nyi Nyi Htwe, opposition MP's Nyi Pu and Tin Min Htut, and Buddhist nun Daw Ponnami.

Families wait for relief outside homes destroyed by Cyclone Nargis, May 5, 2008. AFP
Myint Thwin also voiced concern about nine other youths detained at Mandalay Prison for their alleged roles in the 2007 "saffron revolution"—a monk-led series of protests sparked by rising fuel prices, which ended in an armed crackdown in October 2007.

Myint Thwin said he was unable to proceed with appeals for the remaining activists because their families hadn’t contacted him.

“I haven't had any contact from the remaining families, and since we do not have the general power of attorney, we cannot proceed with appeals,” he said.

“We want to assure those families that we will not charge them at all for any service. We want them to contact us as soon as possible so that we can proceed with their appeal using the general power of attorney.”

Miscarriage in prison

Kathi Aung, 23, whose husband Tun Tun has been in hiding from the authorities since September, suffered a second-trimester miscarriage in prison and has since been diagnosed with a heart condition, according to her parents.

Aung was six months pregnant when she miscarried in prison on or around Dec. 27, her parents said in an interview. Kathi Aung’s mother, Thi Da Aung, said that when she visited her daughter on Jan. 21, “She was thin and pale.”

Thi Da Aung also said authorities threatened to transfer her daughter to a remote prison if she spoke to the media.

Kathi Aung was initially handed a 26-year sentence for allegedly crossing the Burmese border and maintaining contact with illegal organizations, although her husband says she had no involvement in politics.

Exile groups speak out

Two Burmese exile groups, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) and the Burmese Women's Union, in December cited Kathi Aung’s case in a joint statement condemning inadequate health care for political prisoners in Burma.

“The authorities have clearly failed to meet their obligations” under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which the junta signed in 1997, the statement said.

“As a result, Kay Thi [Kathi] Aung has suffered a terrible loss. She needs urgent medical treatment,” it said, calling for the reinstatement of prison visits in Burma by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Tun Tun, 24 and known as Myo Min Oo, said from an undisclosed hiding place in December that the authorities had come looking for him in early September at the same time that they detained a number of other activists, whose work with Nargis victims  showed up gaping holes in the government's handling of the disaster.

When police couldn’t find him, he said, they detained his wife.

Until September, Tun Tun had been working closely with two Buddhist monks who were helping Nargis victims in Bogalay, Dedaye, Pyapone, and other disaster-stricken towns in the south of the country, collecting donations and distributing aid to the victims.

Cyclone aid

Tun Tun worked with two monks helping cyclone victims left without government aid, first in Mandalay, then on several trips to the devastated Irrawaddy delta.

Both monks have since been arrested on suspicion of re-grouping for further mass demonstrations on the first anniversary of the crackdown on the Saffron Revolution.

According to official figures, Cyclone Nargis killed 84,537 people and left 53,836 missing and 19,359 injured.

Local people left homeless and without food or water in the wake of the storm complained that the government prevented aid from reaching those who needed it, and hindered attempts by religious groups and private individuals to plug the gap.

In December, New York-based Human Rights Watch renewed its criticism of Burma's treatment of political prisoners, both in court and in prison.

It urged ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan to send an independent legal assessment team to monitor the situation, calling on ASEAN to address Burma's lack of respect for the rule of law when it holds its rescheduled ASEAN summit meeting in early 2009.

Original reporting in Burmese by Ye Htet and translation by Khin May Zaw for RFA's Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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