Tuesday, April 1, 2008

At least 40 protesters convicted in secret Junta's trials: Amnesty

BANGKOK (AFP) - At least 40 protesters in Myanmar, including seven Buddhist monks, have been sentenced to prison after secret trials over last year's pro-democracy marches, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

In September, Buddhist monks spearheaded the biggest anti-government protests in Yangon in nearly 20 years, but the military regime violently suppressed the movement by opening fire on crowds and beating people in the streets.

Officially, more than 3,000 people were arrested during the crackdown. The junta says the vast majority have been released.

But Amnesty said in a statement that at least 700 are still behind bars, and at least 40 of them have been sentenced to prison after secret trials.

The rights watchdog said its research found protesters had been convicted "for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly."

"Three people were sentenced merely for giving water to monks on the street," the statement said.

The group urged the UN Security Council to pass a resolution reflecting the international community's concerns over the country, after a visit in March by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari yielded no progress on the human rights situation.

"Rather than comply with the Security Council's appeals, the Myanmar authorities have instead moved to the next phase of their crackdown and suppression of the human rights of the Myanmar people with these sentences," Amnesty said.

"The Council cannot allow this to continue."

The United Nations estimates that at least 31 people were killed during the crackdown six months ago.

In addition to the 700 jailed protesters, Myanmar has another 1,150 political prisoners held prior to the monks' marches in September.

Most famous among them is Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

She led her National League for Democracy party to a landslide victory in 1990 elections, but the military never recognised the result.

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