ToneToneFebruary 10, 201011min820

Burma jails US citizen who was 1988 student activist


A Burmese court has sentenced a US citizen to three years in prison for fraud and forgery, despite calls by 50 US lawmakers for his release.

Rights activist Nyi Nyi Aung was convicted for forging an identity card, failing to declare currency at customs and violating immigration law.

The 40-year old activist was arrested in September.

He had been a student activist in the 1988 uprising against military rule and had returned to Burma on a US passport.

“We will appeal the sentence,” said his lawyer Nyan Win, who also represents the country’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Activist family

In December, more than 50 US lawmakers wrote to Burmese leader Than Shwe, urging him to release the Burma-born detainee from prison amid concerns about his health.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch has also called for his release and said the charges – which he denied – were “trumped-up” by the regime.

After fleeing his home country, he arrived in the US as a refugee and gained a computer science degree. He was on his fifth trip back to Burma when he was arrested.

His lawyers say he was deprived of food, sleep, medical treatment and US consular access in his first two weeks of detention.

His fiancee and his Washington-based lawyer said in December he had gone on a hunger strike to demand better conditions for political prisoners and was in deteriorating health.

Nyi Nyi Aung, also known as Kyaw Zaw Lwin, was sentenced to three years in prison for forging a national identity card and one year each on the other charges, sentences which the judge said should be served concurrently.

The charges could have led to a sentence of up to 12 years’ imprisonment.

Nyi Nyi Aung’s mother is believed to be in failing health while she serves a five-year jail sentence in a remote jail for her involvement in a 2007 uprising.

Two cousins are also in jail, one for more than 65 years, and a sibling is in exile in Thailand.

Myanmar Sentences American to Prison


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A court in Myanmar sentenced an American citizen on Wednesday to five years in prison and hard labor on charges of carrying a forged identity card and two other offenses.

The American, Nyi Nyi Aung, a naturalized citizen who has spent two decades campaigning for democracy in his native Myanmar, formerly Burma, will be allowed to serve the three prison terms concurrently, cutting down the actual jail time to three years. Mr. Nyi Nyi Aung’s lawyers said they would appeal, and human rights groups called the charges phony.

Richard Mei, a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Myanmar, said the verdict was “unjustified” and urged the Burmese authorities to release him.

“We believe the charges were politically motivated,” Mr. Mei said, reading from a prepared statement. He declined to discuss what other steps the United States might take.

The Obama administration has maintained longstanding sanctions against Myanmar but has also sought to engage the country’s ruling generals, and last year it sent senior diplomats to meet with the leadership.

Freedom Now, an American human rights group that lobbies for the release of political prisoners, urged the Obama administration to make Mr. Nyi Nyi Aung’s release “a priority” in its relations with Myanmar.

Mr. Nyi Nyi Aung, who was born Kyaw Zaw Lin, was sentenced to three years for forging a national identity card, one year for possession of undeclared foreign currency and one year for failing to renounce his Burmese citizenship after becoming an American citizen in 2002.

He is one of more than 2,100 dissidents jailed in Myanmar for their opposition to the military government, one of the most brutal and uncompromising governments in Asia. Hundreds of dissidents were arrested after the street protests led by monks in September 2007, and many were sentenced to prison terms in excess of 60 years.

Mr. Nyi Nyi Aung, 40, was arrested on his arrival at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, in September. Although he had visited the country several times since becoming an American citizen and had obtained a visa from the Burmese government each time, colleagues and friends said the trip in September was risky because he had been publicly singled out by the junta after the 2007 protests.

His mother, Daw San San Tin, was detained for her involvement in those protests, and he hoped to visit her in prison, family members say. She has thyroid cancer and is serving a five-year term in a remote prison in Meiktilain central Myanmar.

A court at Rangoon’s Insein Prison sentenced Burmese-American activist Nyi Nyi Aung to three years imprisonment on Wednesday, according to his lawyer, Nyan Win.

The court initially sentenced the activist to five years in prison with hard labor, but this was later commut

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Nyan Win said his client was sentenced under Article 468 of the Penal Code for possessing a fake Burmese ID card and Article 24/1 of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act for illegal possession of a foreign currency. He was also found guilty of failing to renounce his Burmese citizenship.

He added that he plans to file an appeal after reviewing the court’s decision.

Nyi Nyi Aung, 40, was arrested by Burmese authorities on Sept. 3 last year after arriving at Rangoon’s international airport on a flight from Bangkok. A political refugee who resettled in the US in 1993, he returned to Burma to visit his mother, who is also a political prisoner.

Khin Khin Shwe, Nyin Nyin Aung’s aunt in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy: “We can do nothing [about the sentence], so we are preparing to submit an appeal for him next week. We did not get a chance to meet him today.”

Meanwhile, US-based human rights advocacy group Freedom Now released a statement on Wednesday saying that the conviction against Nyi Nyi Aung is based on sham charges.

Wa Wa Kyaw, Nyi Nyi Aung’s fiance in Maryland, told Freedom Now: “All of Burma knows that these are bogus charges. The junta is looking to stifle Nyi Nyi just as they have the 2,100 other political prisoners in Burma. I can only hope that the government of the United States won’t let Burma illegally imprison its own citizen.”

Beth Schwanke, an international counsel for Nyi Nyi Aung at Freedom Now, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday: “These are false charges. We call on the junta to immediately release Nyi Nyi.”

Nyi Nyi Aung, also known as Kyaw Zaw Lwin, was tortured while undergoing interrogation at Insein prison and last December launched a hunger strike to protest against conditions for political prisoners.

Nyi Nyi Aung was a student activist during Burma’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising. He later fled to the Thai-Burmese border and was subsequently granted political asylum in the US.

He returned to Burma last September to visit his mother, San San Tin, who is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence for participating in anti-government demonstrations in September 2007. His cousin, Thet Thet Aung, is serving a 65-year prison sentence for her involvement in the same protests.

In a statement released today, Jared Genser, president of Freedom Now, said, “Nyi Nyi Aung has been illegally and unjustly convicted on sham charges because of his tireless advocacy for democracy and human rights in Burma.

“We call on President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to make Nyi Nyi’s release a priority in the US government’s relations with Burma,” said Genser.

ed to three years.