YANGON (AFP) — Myanmar on Tuesday sentenced 23 activists arrested during anti-junta protests last year to 65 years each in jail, family members said, in what rights groups branded a fresh attempt to stifle dissent.
The activists, including several women, were jailed during a closed-door hearing at the notorious Insein prison on the northern outskirts of the commercial hub of Yangon, relatives and an opposition party said.
The sentences came a day after a court handed a 20-year prison term to a prominent blogger who was arrested after the 2007 demonstrations, which snowballed into the biggest challenge to junta rule in nearly two decades.
"Altogether 23 activists were sentenced today at Insein prison. They were sentenced to 65 years each," a family member of one of the jailed activists told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The group included leading activist Nilar Thein and her husband, Jimmy, according to a spokesman for the opposition party of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
According to rights group Amnesty International, Nilar Thein had to abandon her baby daughter after going into hiding following the initial protests in August 2007.
A leading member of a group which led an earlier failed uprising against the junta in Myanmar in 1988, Mie Mie or Thin Thin Aye, was also among them, the relative said.
Amnesty said Mie Mie had suffered from a heart condition while in detention and was denied medical attention for some time.
"Sentencing these student activists with many years imprisonment for showing their desire shows the lack of human rights in Myanmar," spokesman Nyan Win of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) told AFP.
Nyan Win confirmed that at least 14 activists were sentenced to 65 years each.
In neighbouring Thailand, a group that defends political prisoners in Myanmar said that 14 of those sentenced were members of the so-called "88 Generation."
The term applies to students who led the doomed uprising 20 years ago, which was crushed by the military with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives. Many of its leaders served years in jail after those demonstrations.
"The sentence was handed down at around 1:00 pm, behind closed doors in Insein prison special court. Family members were not allowed to attend the hearing," the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) said in a statement.
The military regime changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989.
Some "88 Generation" members including Nilar Thein started new demonstrations in Yangon in August 2007 after the authorities abruptly hiked fuel prices. Dozens of them were arrested.
The following month, Buddhist monks took up the leadership of the protests, which were again subject to a brutal crackdown. According to the United Nations, 31 people were killed.
On Monday, a court at Insein prison gave a 20-year sentence to blogger Nay Phone Latt, 28, who was arrested in January after his blog on the difficulties of daily life in Myanmar was banned, Nyan Win said.
Leading Myanmar poet Saw Wai, who is accused of penning a secret anti-junta message in one of his works, got two years at the same hearing, he said.
The rash of jail terms comes just over two months after Myanmar freed its longest-serving political prisoner as part of an amnesty for more than 9,000 inmates, ahead of elections promised by the ruling generals in 2010.
Win Tin, a 79-year-old journalist and prominent dissident, had been behind the bars of Insein prison since 1989.
"The sentences today represent the other side of the story after the release of... Win Tin two months ago," Benjamin Zawacki, a researcher with Amnesty International, told AFP in Bangkok.
He said the huge 65-year jail terms "show the true intentions of the government which continues with its policy of silencing all political dissent."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »