15-year sentence for displaying a poster

Oct 28, 2009 (DVB), A courtroom in Rangoon has handed down a 15-year sentence to a man arrested after putting up a poster calling for the release of political prisoners in Burma.

The family of Tin Htut Paing, from Rangoon's North Okkalapa township, was barred from attending the trial, which began in April this year.

His father said that he had been convicted on four different charges, including illegal border crossing and the Unlawful Association Act.

"We knew he was going to be sentenced on the 26 October but we didn't have permission to attend the hearing," said Htay Win.

"It would have been nice if the court allowed us to attend the hearing of the verdict. The same thing happened when my wife was sentenced; we were denied entry to the court."

Htay Win's wife, 52-year-old Daw Nge, is a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Tamwe township. She was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison on charges related to the September 2007 monk-led protests.

He said that Tin Htut Paing had been kept in detention for more than a month before the trial began, and "was denied food for two days and faced harsh interrogations".

The United States government has pinpointed the release of political prisoners in Burma as a key goal for engagement with the regime.

Observers are concerned however that the government will paradoxically step up its efforts to silence political opposition in the run-up to elections next year, despite pressure from the US.

"We will definitely see the number of arrests of activists growing before the elections," said Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP). "The regime sees them a big threat".

Burma currently holds 2,119 political prisoners, some with sentences of more than 100 years, according to AAPP. Around 190 of these are women, while 219 are monks, many of whom were sentenced follow the September 2007 protests.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw and Francis Wade

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