Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Myanmar courts imprison ethnic minority activists

YANGON, Myanmar (IHT): A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced three ethnic minority activists and a well-known Buddhist monk to prison Tuesday, continuing a crackdown that began last week with pro-democracy activists.

Meanwhile, five United Nations experts issued a statement in Geneva strongly condemning the "severe convictions and the unfair trials of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar." At least 70 activists were sentenced to prison terms last week, and another seven on Monday.

Chin leader Chin Sian Thang said a court inside Yangon's Insein Prison on Tuesday sentenced his son, Kam Lat Khaot to 33 years in prison and his nephew, Kai Kham Kwal, to eight years.

Chin Sian Thang said a member of the Arakan minority was also given 33 years. The Arakan, like the Chin, are clustered in western Myanmar.

Ashin Gambira, one of the most prominent monks leading pro-democracy protests in September 2007, was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and still faces further charges, he said.

"The judicial system in Myanmar has collapsed and the courts are passing down sentences in contravention of the law. These secret trials are blatant violations of human rights," Chin Sian Thang said.

Chin Sian Thang is a prominent politician who won a parliamentary seat in elections in 1990, the results of which were never recognized by the ruling junta. He said he received information about the sentencing while waiting outside the prison.

The Chin leader said he was detained for about a month during last year's pro-democracy demonstrations, while his son and nephew were arrested in October. The junta's repression of the protests resulted in at least 31 people being killed and thousands detained, according to U.N. estimates.

The statement from the U.N. experts said they "strongly urge the Myanmar authorities to cease harassing and arresting individuals for peacefully exercising their internationally recognized human rights."

"They further demand that all detainees be retried in open hearings respecting fair trial standards and the immediate release of their defense counsels," it said. Three defense lawyers have been sentenced to several months imprisonment for contempt of court, while several others have been barred from representing their clients.

The U.N. experts are Tomas Ojea Quintana, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; Leandro Despouy, rapporteur for the independence of judges and lawyers; Frank La Rue, rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression; Margaret Sekaggya, rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Asma Jahangir, rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief.

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