Relatives: Myanmar Activists Get Long Prison Terms

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YANGON, Myanmar – A court in Myanmar sentenced 14 members of a well-known pro-democracy group to 65 years imprisonment each on Tuesday, relatives said.

The members of the 88 Generation Students group, including five women, were sentenced by a court in Yangon's Insein Prison, they said.

"I heard from sources close to the prison that my son and thirteen others were given 65-year prison sentences this morning in a closed-door trial," said Nyunt Nyunt Oo, mother of 31-year-old Pandeik Tun, one of the 14. "No family members or defense lawyers were present at the trial."

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

After they were freed, they resumed their political activities, and spearheaded open and legal protests against the military government.

Several of those sentenced Tuesday played prominent roles in demonstrations leading up to last year's mass pro-democracy protests, which were crushed by the ruling junta in September last year. They include Kyaw Min Yu — also known as Jimmy — and his wife Nilar Thein, and Mie Mie, all of whom played high-profile roles.

Most of them were arrested Aug. 21, 2007, along with other activists, for staging a street protest against a massive fuel-price hike, while others were arrested after the larger rallies led by Buddhist monks that were violently suppressed.

Nyunt Nyunt Oo said his son and others were sentenced under various charges including 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. She said the other charges involved the Video Act, the Foreign Exchange act, the Electronics Act and links with illegal groups.

Asked if she is going to appeal the verdict against her son, Nyunt Nyunt Oo said, "I don't think any effort will make a difference because the judgment is one-sided and this was what the authorities had decided to do."

She noted that her son's two defense lawyers, Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein, are serving four-month prison sentences for contempt of court.

The mother of another of the convicted activists said she has also heard that her son was sentenced to 65 years imprisonment.

"I have nothing to do but pray to Lord Buddha for the safety of my son. I have to encourage myself as I have no one but myself," said Tin Tin Win, the widowed mother of Arnt Bwe Kyaw.

Nine other top-tier leaders of the 88 Generation Students who are facing various similar charges were recently given six months in prison each for interrupting judicial proceedings during their closed trial.

According to U.N. estimates, at least 31 people were killed when the army violently suppressed last year's protests. Thousands of demonstrators were detained and many fled the country or went underground.

International human rights groups say Myanmar's junta now holds more than 2,100 political prisoners, compared with nearly 1,200 in June, 2007, before the pro-democracy demonstrations.

The prisoners include Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the opposition National League of Democracy party, who is under house arrest.

After her party's candidates won the most seats in a 1990 general election, the military refused to let it take power, and instead harassed its members. The junta says it will hold a fresh election in 2010.