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International Condemnation of Harsh Prison Sentences

November 13, 2008

From Irrawaddy

The United Nations and the United States strongly condemned Burma’s military regime on Wednesday for imposing prison sentences of up to 65 years on 39 pro-democracy activists early this week, and urged the junta to immediately release all political prisoners.

“The secretary-general is deeply concerned by recent reports of sentences and severe prison terms imposed in connection with the peaceful demonstrations of last year in Myanmar [Burma],” said Marie Okabe, deputy spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Okabe said that the UN chief called for the release of all political prisoners and for the people of the country to be allowed to freely participate in Burma’s political future as part of an inclusive national reconciliation process.

Meanwhile, in Washington, a state department spokesperson said that the United States also condemned the manner in which the trials of these pro-democracy activists were conducted.

“The regime held closed-court sessions and did not allow family members or lawyers to attend,” state department spokesperson Robert A Wood told reporters.

“We reiterate our call for the regime to cease harassing and arresting civilians for peacefully exercising their internationally recognized human rights,” Wood said.

“We also call on the regime to begin a genuine dialogue with democratic and ethnic minority representatives and to immediately release all of Burma’s over 2,000 political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi and those convicted in recent days,” he said.

Wood said the United States would continue to work with its international partners to find the best ways in which additional pressure can be put on the Burmese military regime.

“You know, we’re very concerned about the situation in Burma, as we’ve said many times, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to increase that pressure on the Burmese,” Wood said.

A leading Burmese human rights organization urged the US to raise the issue of Burma in the Security Council so that the 15-member body can discuss the current situation there in light of the latest developments.

“We urge the United States to convene an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to decide on an international response, including the imposition of a global arms embargo on Burma’s military regime,” Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, said.

“It is clear now that Burma’s military regime has rejected calls by the UN Security Council to immediately release all political prisoners in Burma,” he said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are calling on the office of the United Nations secretary-general and other relevant UN bodies to immediately enquire into the sentencing of human rights defenders to 65 years imprisonment.
Parliamentarians from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia who make up the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) are extremely concerned with reports that these jail terms were reportedly handed down in a closed-door “Special Court” hearing in Rangoon’s Insein Prison on November 11, 2008.

“These are draconian sentences. Moreover, these extraordinarily lengthy sentences were reportedly handed down to these activists who did not have legal representation at that time. This is against basic judicial principles and cannot still be occurring in a time when international conventions exist that protect human rights and justice for people,” said AIPMC President Kraisak Choonhavan.

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