Page last updated at 05:15 GMT, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Burma blogger jailed for 20 years

Burma's military leader Than Shwe
Than Shwe: "Foolish with power", says Nay Phone Latt

A Burmese blogger has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for posting a cartoon of the military leader Than Shwe.

Nay Phone Latt, 28, was sentenced by a court in Rangoon's Insein prison, said his mother, Aye Than.

Nay Phone Latt's colleague Thin July Kyaw was sentenced to two years imprisonment, Aye Than reported.

Another dissident, Saw Wai, was sentenced to two years in jail for publishing a poem mocking Than Shwe in the weekly Love Journal.

The first words of each line of the Burmese language poem spelled out the message "Senior General Than Shwe is foolish with power".

Nay Phone Latt was arrested in January; the sentence delivered on Monday included 15 years for offences under the Electronics Act, two years for "creating public alarm" and three and a half years for offences under the Video Act, his mother said.

One of his offences was apparently the possession of a banned video.

His blogs during the September 2007 uprising provided invaluable information about events within the locked-down country.

Aye Than said she was not allowed to attend the trial and Nay Phone Latt was not represented by his defence lawyer, Aung Thein, who began serving a four-month prison sentence for contempt of court last Friday.

"My son is a computer expert and he has not violated any criminal law. It is very unfair that he was given 15 years' imprisonment under the Electronics Law for a crime he did not commit," said Aye Than.

A spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy party, Nyan Win, described Nay Phone Latt, a former party member, as "a young and intelligent blogger and computer expert."

Spreading arrests

"The government is expediting the trials of political prisoners and many have been given lengthy prison sentences," said Nyan Win.

Nyan Win said party youth member Tun Tun Naing, who was arrested last year, was given 19 years in prison on Friday.

Tun Tun Naing and Khin Maung Aye, of the privately-owned weekly News Watch, were arrested on 5 November and are being detained in Insein prison.

The media rights organisations Reporters Without Borders and Burma Media Association have demanded their immediate release, adding this brings to 10 the number of journalists arrested so far this year.

Irrawaddy magazine, an exile Burmese news organisation, said the current crackdown is also aimed at silencing legal attempts to ensure fair trials for dissidents now appearing before judges in closed court sessions.

Two weeks ago, three defence lawyers, Nyi Nyi Htwe, Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein were imprisoned for between four and six months for contempt of court after complaining of unfair treatment.

Four other defence lawyers, Kyaw Hoe, Maung Maung Latt, Myint Thaung and Khin Htay Kyew have been barred from representing their clients, who include members of the 88 Generation Students group.

The US State Department has criticised the imprisonment of the four defence lawyers and urged the Burmese regime to drop all charges and release them.

President Bush announced that he will nominate one of his former senior Asia advisers as special representative for Burma.

'No legitimacy'

The European Union said on Monday that multiparty elections scheduled for 2010 in Burma will be seen as illegitimate unless the ruling military junta frees all political prisoners - particularly Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The 27 EU foreign ministers deplored the lack of progress in Burma since the violent repression of peaceful protests.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 19 years.

The junta has announced general elections in 2010 as part of its "roadmap to democracy".

The junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a nationwide pro-democracy uprising, killing as many as 3,000 people. It organised multiparty elections in 1990 but refused to honour the results after Suu Kyi's party won overwhelmingly.

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