Myanmar human rights defender jailed

By GRANT PECK, Associated Press Writer July 25, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand - A Myanmar human rights defender beaten by a pro-government mob was sentenced to eight years in prison for inciting unrest, activists said Wednesday.

Myint Naing was sentenced Tuesday by Judge Aung Min Hein in the Henzeda township court, 60 miles northwest of Yangon, said Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma.

He said information about the sentence came from the trial's spectators and the defendant's lawyer. The judge or a court spokesman could not be contacted.

The U.S. Campaign for Burma, which lobbies against Myanmar's military government, says that five villagers who were with Myint Naing were also sentenced to four years' imprisonment each. Burma is the old name for Myanmar, and preferred by the military regime's opponents.

Myint Naing — also known as Myint Hlaing — and a fellow member of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Network, Maung Maung Lay, were attacked and seriously wounded April 18 at Oakpon village in Henzeda, said the U.S. Campaign for Burma and the New York-based Human Rights Watch. They were headed to another village to continue to conduct human rights training.

Their attackers, the groups said, were 50-100 men with clubs and other homemade weapons. The groups said the attack was organized and carried out by members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association — USDA — a government-backed group accused of assaulting and intimidating the junta's opponents.

"This brutal attack against grass-roots human rights defenders is the latest in a series of assaults on peaceful political activities in Burma," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government should order its thugs to stop harassing people for promoting human rights."

The USDA was linked to attacks against opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy supporters in the Yangon in 1997, as well as a deadly attack on the party leader and her supporters in northern Myanmar on May 30, 2003.

The junta created the USDA in 1993, ostensibly as a social welfare organization. It claims more than 20 million members, more than one-third of the country's population. Public servants and local officials especially come under heavy pressure to join.

The USDA is generally seen as political party in the making to support the military's interest when electoral democracy is restored.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962, with the latest junta emerging after a brutal 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy protests. The military has been widely accused of atrocities against ethnic minorities and of suppressing the democracy movement.

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