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Burmese Opposition Silenced

Pro-democracy activists in Burma are being systematically silenced by secret trials and extreme prison sentences. The brutal military junta of Than Shwe has overseen the convictions of nearly 100 people since November 7th. Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, and Htay Kywe were among those who have been sentenced to 65 years' imprisonment for their peaceful participation in the August 2007 protests. Burmese citizens, including monks and activists, took part in the demonstrations, calling on the regime to address the basic needs of the Burmese people.

Voice of America reported that one of the monks convicted for his role in last year's pro-democracy marches was Ashin Gambira. He was given a 12-year prison sentence and still faces more charges. Another monk, U Kalatha, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

These Burmese activists were denied basic elements of due process, including the opportunity to present evidence. When their lawyers complained, they too were harassed and jailed. Adding to their hardship, convicted activists have been dispersed to prisons in remote parts of Burma where their families will be unable to supply them with food and medicine. The isolation also means a greater likelihood of harsher prison conditions, including torture and denial of medical treatment.

The scale and severity of the crackdown seems to suggest that the Burmese military regime is intent on wiping out all political opposition in advance of its planned 2010 elections. But such an election will be meaningless if much of the opposition is behind bars.

In a statement, the White House press secretary strongly condemned the Burmese "regime's persistent repression of its people for exercising basic freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." It is deplorable that these Burmese men and women have been arrested, detained, charged, and tried behind closed doors without the benefit of counsel. "The international community and the United Nations Security Council," the White House press secretary said, "must not remain silent as the regime demonstrates yet again its contempt for universal freedoms and its disdain for the international community's calls to release all political prisoners. The United States will continue to stand with the people of Burma as they speak out against the junta's brutal actions."