In a devastating week for Myanmar's democracy movement, dozens have been sentenced to long prison terms, as the military-ruled government locks away writers and Buddhist monks — as well as musicians, a poet and at least one journalist.
By the weekend, more than 80 had received sentences of up to 65 years — a move that seemed designed to keep them jailed long past upcoming elections, activists and analysts said Sunday.
“(Leaders) are clearing the decks of anyone who is likely to challenge their authority ahead of the election” in 2010, said Larry Jagan, a Bangkok-based newspaper columnist and analyst of Myanmar, also called Burma.
Many were arrested following mass pro-democracy protests that were crushed by the ruling junta in September 2007. The U.N. estimates at least 31 people were killed and thousands detained. Many fled the country or went underground.
Others sentenced this week were arrested in 2007 for protesting a massive fuel-price hike — demonstrations that preceded the protests in September. A blogger received more than 20 years in prison for Internet activities, and a poet was sentenced to two years for allegedly concealing the text of an anti-government slogan in one of his works. The journalist was arrested while covering a demonstration staged by victims of this year's devastating cyclone.
News of the sentences came mostly through activists and analysts. The military junta that has ruled Myanmar since 1962 did not comment on the sentences, most of which were handed down in closed-door proceedings. It was not known why the prisoners were sentenced now.