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Pro-democracy activist gets 3-year jail term

An activist in a petition drive calling on Myanmar's military leaders to release political prisoners was sentenced to three years in jail.
None | By Associated Press, Yangon
PUBLISHED ON OCT 20, 2006 12:38 PM IST

An activist in a petition drive calling on Myanmar's military leaders to release political prisoners was sentenced to three years in jail at a trial where he was denied a lawyer and defence witnesses, a fellow activist said on Friday.

Win Ko, a student pro-democracy activist and a youth member of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, was sentenced by a court in Letpadan, 160 kms north of Yangon, said Arnt Bwe Kyaw, an activist who tried to visit him in prison but was denied entry.

Pro-democracy groups denounced the trial as unfair. Win Ko was arrested on October 6 at the Letpadan train station in possession of some 400 signatures he had collected from residents in the area as part of a signature drive demanding the release of Suu Kyi and detained political prisoners.

He was approached by officers from the Union Solidarity and Development Association, a government-sponsored body that calls itself a social organization and wields enormous authority.

When the officers searched his bag and asked him to explain the petitions, he declined. The officers also allegedly found illegal lottery tickets in his possession, a charge that Win Ko vehemently denied.

The court in Letpadan sentenced him to two years in prison for obstructing the work of a government officer and to another year in prison for possession of illegal lottery tickets, Arnt Bwe said. "Win Ko was arrested on trumped up charges," said Arnt Bwe.

"He was not allowed a defence lawyer and no defence witness was brought before the court."

The ruling military tolerates little dissent, harassing or detaining critics and political foes such as opposition leader Suu Kyi, and keeping tight restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.

According to Amnesty International, they hold more than 1,150 political prisoners.

The signature campaign — a rare protest against the repressive regime — was launched on October 2 by an informal group of former student leaders who were key players in the 1988 movement that sought to end military rule in Myanmar, then called Burma.

The military junta took power after crushing the 1988 pro-democracy movement.

It refused to yield two years later when Suu Kyi's political party won a landslide victory in general elections.

Suu Kyi has spent nearly 11 of the last 17 years in detention, mostly under house arrest, despite worldwide calls for her freedom along with hundreds of other political prisoners.

Mya Aye, one of the organisers of the signature campaign, denounced Win Ko's trial as "unlawful."

"We demand that authorities allow him the right to defend himself and have a fair trial," Mya Aye said.

Separately, Thet Wai, a member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, was freed from Insein prison on Thursday after serving two years for alleged links with a protester who staged a rally in front of the UN office in Yangon in September 2004.

NLD spokesman Myint Thein said Thet Wai's release came 25 days after his two-year-term had expired.

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