Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Canada demands release of Myanmar activists "immediately"

OTTAWA (AFP) – Canada has called on Myanmar for the immediate release of all political prisoners, including activists arrested during anti-junta protests last year and given heavy prison sentences.

"Canada is deeply concerned to learn that 14 members of the 88 Generation Students group have each been sentenced to 65 years' imprisonment," said a statement issued late Tuesday by Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon.

"We call on Burmese authorities to release all political prisoners immediately," it added.

Several nations, including Canada, Britain and the United States, intentionally refers to the country by its former name Burma, though it was changed by the junta to Myanmar in 1989.

"We call upon the Burmese regime to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all the people of Burma.

"We continue to urge the regime to begin a genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minorities in order to foster a political process leading to the full restoration of democracy," the statement read.

At least 23 people arrested after last year's anti-junta demonstrations were given prison sentences on Tuesday, with most condemned to 65 years behind bars at Yangon's notorious Insein Prison, according to family friends and a lawyer.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called the trials "unfair," and said the detainees should not be punished for taking part in the peaceful protests in August and September last year, which were suppressed by the military.

The sentences came a day after a court handed a 20-year prison term to a prominent blogger arrested after the 2007 demonstrations, which snowballed into the biggest challenge to junta rule in nearly two decades.

There are more than 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar, according to Amnesty International.

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