Political activists jailed for 65 years in Burma


A CLOSED military court in Burma sentenced 14 pro-democracy activists to 65 years each in prison yesterday for their part in last year's anti-government uprising.

The severity of the sentences handed down to the 14 leaders of the 88 Generation group at the hearing in Rangoon's notorious Insein jail stunned even those inured to the harsh military regime.

Another 20 activists, among the hundreds of political dissidents seized in swoops this year, are being tried on numerous charges and could face sentences of up to 150 years each.

Some of those sentenced yesterday faced four charges of using electronic media and were given 15 years on each count, with a further five years for forming an illegal organisation.

The best-known among the group are Thin Thin Aye, also called Mie Mie, and Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Ko Jimmy, who were arrested in August last year. They also included Ko Jimmy's wife, Nilar Thein, who fled into hiding, leaving their four-month old daughter with her parents, but who was arrested two months ago.

Nyunt Nyunt Oo, the mother of Pannate Tun, said her son was sentenced to 65 years under charges that ban possession of illegal videos, making speeches or statements, and taking part in demonstrations.

"No family members or defence lawyers were present at the trial," she said.

Defence lawyers Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein were earlier sentenced to four months' imprisonment for contempt of court, while other legal representatives were so tightly restricted that the activists stopped using them.

The activists were part of the leadership of the 88 Generation that rose up against the regime 20 years ago.

They were tortured and given long jail terms when the rebellion was crushed with the deaths of as many as 3,000 people. On release within the last five years they renewed their activism in less confrontational ways.

The sentences came a day after a Burmese blogger arrested after the protests last year was jailed for 20 years and a poet was sentenced to two years. Amnesty International estimates there are now 2,100 political prisoners in Burma. - (Guardian service)

"The United Nations Security Council said last October that the regime must release political prisoners," Nang Seng, campaigns officer at Burma Campaign UK, said in a statement.

"Instead, the regime has arrested a thousand more people, and is now jailing them for life. The regime is defying the Security Council. The council must respond."

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has condemned the sentences.

"I am appalled by the severity of the sentences imposed today on several respected political activists, whose sole crime has been to try to communicate to the outside world the truth about the conditions under which the people of Burma are living.

"The 65-year sentences will mean that these courageous individuals face spending the rest of their lives in Burma's inhumane prison system.

"This is yet another unacceptable, callous, act by a brutal regime that daily violates the basic human rights of the Burmese people and which will tolerate no voices seeking freedom and justice," Mr Martin said.