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Exiled activist handed prison sentence after returning to Burma

A political activist and lawyer, who recently returned home after years in exile, was sentenced to six months in prison for charges of contempt of court on Wednesday.

National League for Democracy member Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, who fled the country in 2008, yesterday became the first former-exile to be prosecuted upon his return to Burma.

He went back in May after Thein Sein invited the country’s exiled community to return to the country as the nominally civil government unveiled new reforms.

According to the Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min’s attorney and friend, the lawyer was convicted for disrupting the trials of democracy activists he represented in 2007.

“[He was charged] under criminal act 228 for disrupting judicial civil servants. Ko Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was found guilty of that and given the highest sentence – six months,” said Nyi Nyi Htway.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min and fellow lawyer Nyi Nyi Htwe were charged with intentional insult to a public servant sitting in judicial proceedings in 2008 after three of his clients turned their backs to the court during their trial as a protest against the legal process.

His clients were arrested during a march calling for the release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min was due to appear in court to answer the charges against him on 30 October 2008, but when he went to Insein township court on 29 October to defend two other clients he was told the authorities had ordered his arrest and he fled the country for Thailand.

“This kind of case could be dismissed with a 200 (Kyat) fine,” said Nyi Nyi Htway.

“In Burma… only lawyers and their clients are being sued and no action has been taken against administrative persons’ involvement or judges for their behaviour.”

Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min’s conviction comes after the president’s office published the names of the more than 1,000 people today who were excised from the country’s blacklist this week, which includes leading opposition figures who have been living in exile for decades.

“Frankly, it’s extremely surprising and it really runs counter to the kind of reformist policies that the presidents says he wants to implement. It appears the judges didn’t get the memo,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“It raises the concerns that not everybody in the government and the judiciary are on board with the reform agenda. It does introduce a level of uncertainty.”

During an interview with DVB in June, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana voiced similar concerns that the judiciary had yet to participate in the reform process.

“The judiciary is absolutely static,” said Quintana. “We haven’t seen that the judiciary really understands the importance of the process of reform.”

-Aye Nai provided additional reporting.


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