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Three Myanmarese Colleagues Released After Collectively Serving More Than 37 Years in Prison
October 14, 2008
On September 23, 2008, three professional colleagues—geologist Khin Maung Swe and medical doctors May Win Myint and Than Nyein—were among seven opposition leaders unconditionally released from prison in Myanmar. Longstanding cases of the CHR, all three won seats in the People’s Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw) in the 1990 general election, running on the slate of the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. After trials that failed to meet international standards for fairness, all three were convicted on charges that stemmed from their peaceful political activities and considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience. For varying reasons, all continued to be incarcerated by Myanmarese authorities beyond the expiration of their original lengthy prison sentence, held under harsh conditions of confinement despite reports of their serious ill-health. Collectively, they had served more than 37 years in prison.
Press accounts speculate that the government’s unexpected decision to grant amnesty to these prisoners was linked to the start of the 63rd session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. We thank the many CHR correspondents and H.R. Network participants who responded to our alerts by writing more than 125 letters to the Myanmarese authorities appealing for the release of these colleagues. It appears that international pressure played a significant part in securing a successful resolution of these cases.
Khin Maung Swe, age 66, was first arrested shortly after his election as a member of parliament in 1990, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. He was released from prison under a conditional amnesty after 18 months, only to be re-arrested in 1994 “for meeting with and passing fabricated information to foreign nationals.” The foreign nationals in question included Professor Yozo Yokata, who was the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar at that time, as well as foreign journalists and diplomats. Although he served the full seven years to which he was sentenced after a second trial, the Myanmarese authorities did not release him from prison when his term expired in 2001.Instead the authorities revoked his conditional amnesty and told him that he had to finish serving his previous 10-year prison sentence. Even though April 30, 2008, marked seventeen years since Khin Maung Swe’s first conviction, he was not released at that time. Please see Khin Maung Swe’s case summary
for additional background information.
In addition to being members of Parliament-elect, both May Win Myint
, age 58, and Than Nyein
, age 71, have been NLD party officials since the late 1980s. May Win Myint, a woman, was head of the Women’s Wing of the party and Than Nyein was deputy chairman of its organizing committee in Yangon. Both were arrested on October 28, 1997, while coordinating a meeting for party leader Aung San Suu Kyi to formally recognize a newly created NLD youth group in Mayangone Township. Following a closed trial, they were both convicted and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for allegedly disrupting the peace and stability of the country. Upon expiration of this lengthy sentence, Myanmarese authorities repeatedly applied the 1975 State Protection Law to extend the detention orders for May Win Myint and Than Nyein. This vaguely worded security law—widely used to arbitrarily silence peaceful political activists—allows authorities inter alia to order the detention or restricted residence for up to five years without charge or trial of anyone they believe “has performed or is performing or is believed to be performing an act endangering the state sovereignty and security, and public law and order.”