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Concern grows over detained Burmese-American’s health

New Delhi (Mizzima) – U.S. senator James Webb and the international counsel have expressed concern over the health of detained Burmese-born American Nyi Nyi Aung, who has been on hunger strike for a week inside Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison.

The Senator from Virginia, whose visit to Burma in August opened a new front in the Washington-Naypyitaw relationship, in a statement on Friday expressed his concern over reports that Nyi Nyi Aung, alias Aung Kyaw Zaw, is being mistreated in detention and urged the Burmese government to guarantee his rights under international law.

“I remain concerned by reports that American citizen Kyaw Zaw Lwin may have been mistreated during his detainment in Burma, and that he is being denied regular access to U.S. consular visits,” Webb said.

“In the interim, I urge the government in Burma to afford Kyaw Zaw Lwin all the rights guaranteed under international law,” he added.

He said he had contacted the U.S. Department of State and asked to be kept updated on the status of Kyaw Zaw Lwin.  He also said he hopes the Burmese government will allow Nyi Nyi Aung the same access to U.S. Embassy personnel as American citizen John Yettaw, who he personally escorted out of the country in August.

Meanwhile, Beth Schwanke, the international counsel for Nyi Nyi Aung, in a telephone interview with Mizzima on Saturday said she is concerned for her client’s health as he has been on hunger strike, protesting the ill treatment of prisoners.

“We hope that the U.S. government would continue to attempt to get access to Nyi Nyi Aung, and we also hope the U.S. would use its influence to get him deported back to the United States,” Schwake emphasized.

Nyi Nyi Aung, in the initial two weeks since his arrest on September 3 did not have access to the outside but was later allowed meetings with his relatives and U.S. Embassy officials on Mondays.

“But the officials from the prison called his aunt, telling her not to come to the prison this coming Monday,” Schwanke said.

Ian Kelly, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, at a regular press briefing on Friday told reporters that the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon have been in touch with the Burmese government to express their concern and to ensure that Nyi Nyi Aung is being treated well.

On Friday, December 11, a judge in Rangoon’s Southern District Court, where the Burmese-American is being tried, postponed a hearing to December 18, citing the ill health of the accused.

The postponement concerns his aunt and international counsel, who believe that Nyi Nyi Aung’s health might be deteriorating as a result of his hunger strike, during which he has denied everything except water.

Politically motivated

Schwanke said the charges against Nyi Nyi Aung – fraudulence, forgery and illegal possession of foreign exchange – are made-up charges and that the whole case was politically motivated, as he is a well-known democracy activist.

Nyi Nyi Aung was a student activist taking part in the popular democracy uprising in 1988. He was forced to flee to the Thai-Burmese border along with fellow student activists when the military brutally crackdown on the uprising.

He continued his activism while in Thailand but later migrated to Maryland in the United States, eventually becoming a naturalized citizen.

Two of his cousins and his mother, who is suffering from cancer, are currently serving prison terms in Burma for their involvement in the September 2007 protests.

On September 24, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper accused Nyi Nyi Aung of secretly building an underground network of activists and instigating public unrest, including planting explosive devices. The report said he had been supplying financial assistance to underground activists to instigate anti-government protests and public unrest.

But charges submitted to the court in early October did not include any of the accusations made in the government mouthpiece newspaper.

Schwanke argues the charges are irrational, particularly the charge on possessing foreign currency, as Nyi Nyi Aung was arrested immediately as he got off his Thai Airways International flight, before he could even declare his foreign currency at the custom’s desk.

“We believe that his charges are motivated by the fact that he is a democracy activist,” Schwanke said.

Denying the accusations made against the Burmese-American by the government newspaper, Schwanke said, “I know that Nyi Nyi Aung has always been a non-violent democracy activist and he has never worked with violent groups.”

Nyi Nyi Aung has been legally defended Supreme Court advocates Kyi Win and Nyan Win, who early this year defended detained Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was sentenced to three years for ‘harboring’ an American, John Yettaw, who swam across a lake and entered her house in early May.

According to Kyi Win, one of the defense counsels, Nyi Nyi Aung could be sentenced to 14 years under charges of fraud and forgery.


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