US citizen was 'visiting cancer sick mother'

Dec 11, 2009 (DVB), The Burmese-born US citizen standing trial in Burma on charges of fraud had flown to the country to visit his mother, who is sick with cancer, his wife wrote today in The Nation newspaper.

In a heartfelt plea to the international community to step up pressure on the Burmese junta to release the country's 2,100 political prisoners, the wife of Kyaw Zaw Lwin, also known as Nyi Nyi Aung, wrote of her pain at learning of his arrest in early September.

"I felt sick, but not surprised – although Nyi Nyi has always been a non-violent activist, the junta will say anything to justify its actions," she said.

The story draws parallels with that of the husband of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who in 1997 was denied entry to Burma to visit his wife after learning that he had prostate cancer.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin was arrested upon arrival at Rangoon International Airport on 3 September, with initial speculation that the government would try him on terrorism charges.

The terrorism charges have been dropped, but he now faces charges of fraud and possession of excessive amounts of the Burmese currency, which together carry a maximum sentence of 17 years.

"The courts in Burma are tools of the junta, and there is little doubt that he will be convicted. The only question is what will happen next," his wife wrote.

She followed with a direct plea to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, whom Kyaw Zaw Lwin had demanded in June use action, not words, to release all political prisoners in Burma.

"So now, I must speak for Nyi Nyi, as he has so often spoken for others. Nyi Nyi’s arrest, detention and treatment has been condemned by the United States and the international community," she wrote. "And so I say: your words show you take this issue seriously. But what will you do?"

A known political activist with former links to the All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF), Kyaw Zaw Lwin had sought asylum in the US in 1993 where he went on to gain a university degree in computer science.

His aunt, Su Su Kyi, revealed on Monday that the 40-year-old was staging a hunger strike in his cell in Rangoon's Insein prison, where the majority of political prisoners are held. The US embassy in Rangoon told Su Su Kyi in September that he had shown signs of having been tortured whilst in detention.

The US government has made the release of all political prisoners one of a number of prerequisites for lifting sanctions on Burma, which have been in place since 1997.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), of the 2,173 political prisoners in the country's 44 prisons, 178 are women, 251 are monks and 21 are cyclone relief workers. Around 130 are thought to be in poor health.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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