Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Ashin Gambira unwell in court

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Ashin Gambira, facing trial, felt unwell during his last appearance in court, his defence counsel U Khin Maung Shein said.

Leader of last September's Saffron Revolution, Ashin Gambira was not feeling well when he was produced in court on Monday morning.

"I think it is food poisoning because he vomited three times this morning. 'I feel sorry for you because of the stink coming out of my mouth'," his defence lawyer quoted him as saying.

He was weak, exhausted and half asleep with his eyes closed during the court proceedings.

"He inhaled balm brought to him by his younger sisters. They applied balm on his hands and legs and massaged him," the lawyer said.

"He could not say why he felt unwell. He said he thought it was food poisoning," the lawyer added.

He was forcibly disrobed when he was arrested and brought to court in handcuffs. He has been charged under section 13(1) of the Immigration Act, section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, section 6 of the Associations Act, section 505(b) of the Penal Code (inducing crime against public tranquility) and 295, 145, 147 of the Penal Code (insult to the religion, unlawful assembly), section 17/20 of the Printers and Publishers Act and section 33(a)/38 of the Electronic Law.

Ashin Gambira, the leader of the Saffron Revolution, was awarded the 'U Yewata Memorial Peace Prize' by 'All Burma Young Monks Association' (ABYMU-India) and 'Freedom of Expression Prize 2008' by the London based 'Index on Censorship'.

On the same day, 21 members of the 88 Generation Students, including student leader Ko Min Ko Naing, were produced in court. The lawyer said that the health situation of the 21 student leaders was good and their family members were allowed to be present inside the courtroom to witness the court proceedings.

Regime Frees Longest-serving Political Prisoner, Win Tin

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Burma’s longest-serving political prisoner, 78-year-old journalist Win Tin, was freed on Tuesday after 19 years behind bars. Win Tin was among 9,002 prisoners released, only a handful of whom were political detainees.

The freed political prisoners included another well-known writer, Aung Soe Myint, and four members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)—Khin Maung Swe, May Win Myint, Win Htein and Than Nyein.

A close friend of Win Tin, Maung Maung Khin, told The Irrawaddy the long-serving political prisoner had been released unconditionally and in good health.

“He didn’t need to sign any conditional agreement with the Burmese authorities,” Maung Maung Khin said.

The state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, confirmed on Tuesday that 9,002 prisoners had been released.

Win Tin, formerly editor of the influential newspaper Hanthawaddy, vice-chairman of the Writers’ Union, and an active participant in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to 20 years on charges that included “anti-government propaganda.”

Win Tin won international recognition for his pro-democracy involvement, and in 2001 he was awarded the World Association of Newspapers Golden Pen of Freedom and the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.

He suffered heart and prostate problems during his imprisonment, and two rights organizations, Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association, charged that he had been denied “proper medical treatment” and the opportunity to write.

Since 2006, he had been denied visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Around 2,000 political prisoners are now believed to be detained in Burma’s prisons.

Tate Naing, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), called for the release of them all, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held under house arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 years, and leading members of the 88 Generation Students group.

Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Kyi Win, said on Tuesday that a legal appeal against her continuing house arrest would be lodged in Naypyidaw on Thursday.

At least 39 activists were arrested last month alone, and 21 of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment, according to the AAPP.

Burmese observers in exile suggested Tuesday’s amnesty was linked to the start of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York. They pointed out that prisoners had been released in the past in times of growing pressure on the regime.

In a political development, the NLD called on Monday for a review of the new constitution by a committee formed of candidates elected in the 1990 general election, representatives of the regime and ethnic groups and constitutional experts.

Leaked Document Reveals Burma’s US Policy

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s military leaders know they cannot stand alone in the world, but will react according to each situation with a view to balancing their relations with the world’s superpowers, said Home Affairs Minister Maj-Gen Maung Oo at a meeting of his ministers in July.

According to a confidential document acquired recently by The Irrawaddy detailing the minutes of a July 6 meeting, Home Ministry officials were briefed on relations with the United States, China and Indonesia, as well as the junta’s policy toward the 2010 elections, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and how the junta would react to future demonstrations.

According to the leaked minutes of the meeting, Maj-Gen Maung Oo told Home Ministry officials that in reaction to the global influence of the US and the West, Burma would continue to pursue “strong relations” with China, but that didn't mean that the junta was pro-Beijing. “In the modern world, we cannot stand alone,” Maung Oo reportedly said.

The leaked document also revealed that the regime plans to deploy riot police in the event of future protests or civil unrest.

“The international community criticized us for using the armed forces to crack down on [last September’s] demonstrators,” the home minister is quoted as saying. “Therefore we need to reorganize our riot police.”

He also warned officials to be prepared for the coming elections in 2010.

On foreign policy, Maung Oo criticized the US for “using humanitarian issues and democracy as a policy to overthrow governments that it disliked.”

Maung Oo slammed the US for using the UN and the “Responsibility to Protect” paradigm as part of an agenda to accuse the Burmese government of “Crimes against Humanity.” He also said the UN and associate international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) were “puppets” of the US and the CIA.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Maung Oo forewarned his subordinates of the possibility of a third UN Security Council resolution on Burma and subsequent economic sanctions and an embargo.

“In the event of a third presidential statement,” Maung Oo said. “There could be a resolution that the 192 members of the UN will have to follow—led by the US.”

According to the 14-page document, Maung Oo went on to accuse the US, the UN and INGOs of pushing Burma to the top of their agendas. On the Cyclone Nargis disaster, the home minister accused US relief items of providing aid to the victims “just for show” and said the US only delivered drinking water, instant noodles and medicine.

The minister is reported to have accused international aid agencies of spending humanitarian aid money on themselves and not on the cyclone victims.

“We told them to send construction materials instead of instant food,” Maung Oo continued. “But nobody did.”

He also expressed the regime's skepticism and resentment that aid was not delivered through government channels, so the authorities could not see what was being delivered.

Regarding the US naval ships’ inability to deliver aid to cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta, Maung Oo is reported as saying that the Burmese junta denied the request because the regime believed the US military would find an excuse not to leave until after the 2010 elections.

He also pointed out that although the Burmese government calculated that about US $11.7 billion was needed in relief after Cyclone Nargis, the Tripartite Core Group—comprising the UN, Asean and the Burmese regime—only approved about $0.9 billion in aid, which was 12 times the difference of the junta’s calculations.

The ministry’s minutes of the July 6 meeting also make reference to the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). Maung Oo reportedly said the regime was “not scared” of the opposition winning the election, but said that they would have to be careful because the party was backed by the US, British and French embassies.

According to the leaked document, the home minister also referred to the diplomatic standoff between Burma and Indonesia. He reportedly confirmed that there were currently no relations between the two countries at an ambassadorial level and that the first step was for the Indonesian parliament to endorse Burma's ambassador to Jakarta.

An Evil Game: Token Release of Political Prisoners

The Irrawaddy News-Blog

The release of Win Tin, a renowned 79-year-old journalist, and other political prisoners is very good news. But wait. Their amnesty is further proof that the junta is playing its usual evil games.

Win Tin was released on Tuesday after serving more than 19 years in the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon. Other well-known politicians and political activists were also released, but the exact number can’t be confirmed.

The military regime announced an amnesty for 9,002 prisoners for good behavior, saying the amnesty was granted to help build a new nation ahead of the 2010 general election.

Observers believe that only a small number of an estimated 2,000 political prisoners were among those freed.

Of course, political activists are happy that Win Tin, the former editor of the respected newspaper, Hanthawaddy, and a key adviser to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is free. He was the longest serving political prisoner in Burma and perhaps all of Southeast Asia. He is famous for his unwavering political spirit.

Apart from Win Tin, at least seven other senior members of the main opposition National League for Democracy were released from Insein and other prisons.

Their release should not be viewed as a policy change by the regime. The junta, as always, carefully calibrated its move based on external events.

The amnesty follows the opening of the 63rd United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, where the United States will again raise the Burma issue. US President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will make it a point to seek more cooperation from the international community to help restore democracy in Burma and protect human rights.

US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalizad said, “We’ll continue efforts to increase pressure on Burma, to make progress on the political track. There has been no progress on that.” Two other permanent members of the Security Council, Britain and France, are expected to join the US in taking a strong stand on Burma.

So, it was time for the regime to do something to counter criticism in the UN assembly. The international community will welcome the release of political prisoners, and the junta can say it has complied with part of the UN’s demands.

Actually, it’s an old game—political prisoners have always been pawns for the junta. In other words, they are hostages to be released whenever the regime wants to ease mounting international pressure.

Since the regime took power in 1988, the number of political prisoners has always remained above 1,000. The junta, according to Amnesty International, now has 2,000 political prisoners. If the junta really wanted to change its policy, it would release all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, prominent student leader Min Ko Naing and ethnic leaders such as Hkun Htun Oo. (JEG's: U Gambira, Nilar and all the other monks doing hard-labour by now)

This latest release will undoubtedly draw praise from some members of the international community. But we shouldn’t be fooled. The release of all 2,000 political prisoners would be the first step of genuine political reform.

Anything less means political prisoners are just pawns in an evil game.