Harsh sentences for Myanmar dissidents

Fourteen dissidents, who took part in the 2007 anti-government demonstrations in Myanmar, were sentenced to 65 years’ imprisonment each on Tuesday 11 November. The sentences were handed down at a closed-door hearing in Yangon’s Insein prison. On the same day the authorities sentenced another 27 people for their protest activities.

Three of those sentenced are Min Zeya, Kyaw Min Yu (also known as Ko Jimmy), and Ko Jimmy’s wife, Nilar Thein. They are prominent 88 Generation Students group leaders – former student activists who spearheaded the pro-democracy uprising in Myanmar 20 years ago.

They were sentenced for their involvement in the 2007 demonstrations, popularly known as the “Saffron Revolution”. These protests began on 19 August 2007 as small-scale marches against sudden state-imposed fuel price rises, but quickly grew in size and significance. Later tens of thousands of protesters added calls for the release of all political prisoners and demanded an end to the long-standing political impasse through a process of national reconciliation. The authorities brought the protests to an end with a violent crackdown in late September 2007.

“In the midst of its so-called ‘Roadmap to Democracy’, the government of Myanmar reveals its true intentions by sentencing these dissidents for nothing more than peacefully expressing their views during last year’s demonstrations,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Myanmar researcher.

The sentences are a clear example that Myanmar’s military government is ignoring calls by the international community to clean up its human rights record. They also belie the government’s claims that its new constitution and plans for elections in 2010 are genuine efforts toward increasing political participation.

The other dissidents sentenced for their involvement in the “Saffron Revolution” are Mie Mie, Zaw Zaw Min, Than Tin (also known as Kyi Than), Zayya (also known as Kalama), Ant Bwe Kyaw, Kyaw Kyaw Htwe (also known as Marky), Pannate Tun, Thet Zaw, Mar Mar Oo, Sandar Min (also known as Shwe), and Thet Thet Aung.

Also sentenced on 11 November was labour activist Su Su Nway, who was sentenced to 12 years and six months’ imprisonment  for her role in last year’s demonstrations. The day before, blogger Nay Phone Latt, received a jail term of 20 years and six months for, among other offences, showing disrespect for Senior General Than Shwe in his blog.

More than 2,100 political prisoners are currently behind bars in Myanmar. At least another 23 members of the 88 Generation Students group are on trial in Myanmar, including prominent dissidents Min Ko Naing, Htay Kywe, and Ko Ko Gyi. They are expected to be sentenced soon.

“These sentences and the ongoing trials should disabuse anyone of the notion that the Myanmar government has any intention of honouring its assurances to the United Nations that it would improve its human rights record and increase political participation. It knows only repression,” said Benjamin Zawacki.

Min Zeya
A leading activist in the 88 Generation Students group, 40-year-old Min Zeya was arrested along with 12 other activists on 21 August 2007 after organising the first protests against the fuel price increases. Min Zeya was chairperson of the All Burma Students’ Union Reconstruction Committee which was founded after the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. He was arrested in August 1989 and later sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment after being accused of leading an underground network. After his release in October 1995, he was detained on three other occasions before he was again re-arrested in August 2007.

Kyaw Min Yu
Also known as Ko Jimmy, Kyaw Min Yu was arrested together with Min Zeya on 21 August for his role in the fuel price protests. He had been previously imprisoned between early 1990 and July 2005 for his pro-democracy activities. The 39-year-old served two separate sentences during this time; he was given a second sentence after he was accused of involvement in plans to distribute news from overseas broadcasts within Insein Prison, and to contact the United Nations Human Rights Commission about conditions in the prison. He was tortured during his imprisonment.

Nilar Thein
Along with her husband Kyaw Min Yu, 36-year-old Nilar Thein is a leading activist in the 88 Generation Students group. Nilar Thein had been previously detained for two months in 1991. In December 1996 she was again arrested for participating in student demonstrations in Yangon. She was later sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Mie Mie
A high school student when she took part in the 1988 uprising, 38-year-old Mie Mie was arrested on 13 October 2007 as the authorities searched for the organisers of the major anti-government protests. She was forced into hiding after leading a women’s movement march together with Nilar Thein on 22 August 2007, one day after 13 leaders of the 88 Generation Students group were arrested for their role in the protests. Whilst in hiding, she continued to support the protesters through solidarity appeals and interviews with international media.

Mie Mie was detained for four months in 1989 because of her political activities. During the student demonstrations in 1996, she was arrested and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. She has not received adequate treatment for her health problems in detention.

Thet Thet Aung
A member of the 88 Generation Students group, 31-year-old Thet Thet Aung was arrested on 19 October 2007. Her mother and mother-in-law were arbitrarily detained by the authorities, seemingly to intimidate and pressure Thet Thet Aung to turn herself in.

Nay Phone Latt
The owner of two internet cafés in Yangon, Nay Phone Latt was arrested in Yangon on 29 January 2008 in possession of a video that was banned by the military government. The 28-year-old also kept a blog (http://www.nayphonelatt.net/) in which he wrote about the difficulties that young Burmese people faced in the aftermath of the September 2007 protests.

Su Su Nway
A member of the youth wing of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), Su Su Nway was arrested on 13 November 2007, during a UN visit to Myanmar to investigate the September 2007 crackdown. The 36-year-old was arrested after attempting to put up leaflets near the hotel where a UN investigator was staying.

Su Su Nway had previously been imprisoned after successfully taking legal action against village authorities over their use of forced labour. The officials concerned received prison terms, following which Su Su Nway was charged with criminal intimidation and sentenced to 18 months in jail in October 2005. She was later released in June 2006. She suffers from a long-term heart condition and has not received adequate treatment for her health problems while in detention.