Friday, February 29, 2008

Lawyer says detained Burmese activists face new charge carrying 20-year jail term

AP - 1 hour 12 minutes ago

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military junta has charged about 20 pro-democracy activists under a security law that carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years, a lawyer said Friday.

The detained dissidents, being held at Yangon's notorious Insein prison, were earlier charged with violating the Printing and Publishing Act, for which they face a maximum seven years imprisonment, said defense lawyer Aung Thein.

The dissidents were detained in connection with last year's mass pro-democracy demonstrations, which were violently suppressed in September by the government.

They include prominent activists Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi of the 88 Generation Students group, whose demonstrations against economic hardship helped spark the broader September protests.

No trial has yet been scheduled, he said, adding that he has not yet been able to meet his clients.

The authorities must file charges in order to continue to hold the prisoners, and may not necessarily prosecute them on those charges if and when their case come to trial.

Members of the 88 Generation Students were at the forefront of an abortive 1988 pro-democracy uprising and were subjected to lengthy prison terms and torture after the rebellion was brutally suppressed by the military.

The new charge comes under the so-called 5/96 law declaring that anyone who demonstrates, makes speeches or writes statements undermining stability will face up to 20 years in prison. The exact date it was filed against the activists was not clear.

Min Ko Naing and more than a dozen other activists were arrested on Aug. 21 after staging a street protest against a massive fuel-price hike. Other activists were arrested in late September after peaceful protests led by monks were violently quashed.

The U.N. estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained in the crackdown.

Arrests of journalists, activists and bloggers continued after the September crackdown.

In late January, the human rights group Amnesty International said that at least 700 people who were arrested as a result of the September protests remain in prison, while 1,150 political prisoners held prior to the protests have not been released. More than 80 others remain unaccounted for since September, the group said.

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