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Burmese democratic activist Nyi Nyi Aung faces barrage of trumped up charges

Beth Schwanke [Legislative Counsel, Freedom Now]: "Nyi Nyi Aung is a Burmese-born American democracy activist who was arrested at the Rangoon, Burma airport on September 3, 2009. Nyi Nyi was attempting to visit his mother, also an imprisoned democracy activist, who has cancer and is being denied medical treatment by the Burmese junta.

Nyi Nyi's detention and trial are gravely flawed under both Burmese and international law and he has suffered severe mistreatment by Burmese officials. He was denied food and sleep for a week, beaten, and denied medical treatment. This is a violation of the jus cogens prohibition against torture. Nyi Nyi was denied consular access for two periods of over two weeks. This is a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Further, Nyi Nyi has been denied regular access to counsel and an open trial in violation of Burma's Code of Criminal Procedure and Judiciary Law.

In addition to these defects in Nyi Nyi's detention and trial, the charges against Nyi Nyi are pretextual; intended as punishment for his pro-democracy activities. The Burmese junta initially charged Nyi Nyi with violations of the State Protection Law and Emergency Act. These charges were dropped without explanation. Currently, Nyi Nyi is charged with a violation of Article 468 of the Burmese Penal Code for allegedly forging a Burmese national identity card. This carries a potential sentence of seven years. Nyi Nyi is also charged with two violations of Section 24 of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act for failing to declare US and Burmese currencies that he allegedley brought into Burma. These charges carry a potential sentence of three years. Finally, Nyi Nyi is charged with violating Section 6(3) of the 1951 Burma Immigration (Detention) Rules for failing to renounce his Burmese citizenship when he became a US citizen. This carries a potential sentence of two years. These charges are ever fluctuating.

This latest round of charges fails to meet even a modicum of legitimacy. Even ignoring that the factual basis for these charges fails to meet any evidentiary standard, they are logically unsound. With regards to the forgery charge, Nyi Nyi had no need of a Burmese identity card - an American passport would (or should have) provided him with far more protections than a Burmese identity card. The currency charges are similarly unfounded. Nyi Nyi was arrested before he entered customs and therefore had no opportunity to declare his currencies. Finally, as the junta's own witness, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, admitted, he is not aware of any other individual being charged with failing to renounce Burmese citizenship. He also admitted there is no process in Burmese Embassies abroad for former Burmese citizens wishing to renounce their citizenship to do so.

Nyi Nyi Aung suffers severe violations of his human rights and faces twelve years in Burmese prison on trumped up charges, motivated to silence his activism."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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