87-year-old opposition member imprisoned

July 14, 2009 (DVB), An elderly member of Burma's opposition National League for Democracy party who is said to be in declining health was yesterday sentenced to two years in prison under defamation charges.

According to his colleague, the 87-year-old chairman of the National League for Democracy's (NLD) Taungok township branch in Arakan state, Kyaw Khaing, was denied medical care throughout the trial, during which he was "slipping in and out of consciousness".

"He has been suffering from dysentery for the last three to four days and he had to be supported [on the way] to the court," said Tin Thein Aung.

"Deputy police chief Tin Maung San would not allow him to be hospitalized," he said, adding that the doctor refused to come to the courtroom but instead handed medicine to his son.

Kyaw Khaing was sued for defamation in June by his predecessor in the job, Than Pe, although Tin Thein Aung argued that the sentencing came about "because he is an NLD [member] and involved in politics".

There are currently around 470 NLD members imprisoned in Burma, out of a total of 2,160 political prisoners.

The verdict arrived on the same day that Burma's ambassador to the United Nations, Than Swe, announced that the government "is processing to grant amnesty to prisoners on humanitarian grounds and with a view to enabling them to participate in the 2010 general elections."

The pledge followed a visit to Burma earlier this month by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who urged the release of political prisoners prior to the elections next year.

Ban Ki-moon reported back to the UN Security Council yesterday, and said that his denial of a meeting with imprisoned NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was "a major lost opportunity" for the country.

‘The choice for Myanmar’s [Burma] leaders in the coming days and weeks will be between meeting that responsibility in the interest of all concerned, or failing their own people and each one of you,’ he said.

It was not explicitly stated however that the prisoner amnesty would include political prisoners; in February this year over 6000 prisoners were released in a 'goodwill' amnesty by the government, although only 23 were political prisoners.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

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