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Myanmar court sentences monk to 7 years during visit by UN rights envoy

[JURIST] A Buddhist monk was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in Myanmar during a visit by UN High Representative for Human Rights Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile], an opposition lawyer confirmed Saturday. Gaw Thita was convicted [AP report] Wednesday by a special court in Insein Prison [BBC profile] for violating immigration laws in relation to a trip he took to Taiwan, unlawful association, and for failing to declare foreign currency, according to Aung Thein, a former lawyer for the National League for Democracy (NLD) [advocacy website]. Thita was arrested [AFP report] at Yangon International Airport in August along with seven other monks who were later released without charge. According to Thein, Thita had a valid passport and had not committed any immigration violations. Thita's conviction followed those of four dissidents on Monday, coinciding with the commencement of Quintana's five day visit to the country to assess the human rights situation before the planned 2010 general election [BBC report]. At a press conference [transcript, PDF] at the conclusion of his visit, Quintana expressed great disappointment:

Despite anticipation of landmark elections this year, I have not received any indication that the military government is willing to release all prisoners of conscience. ... Without full participation of the people including the 2,200 prisoners of conscience and the environment that allows the parties to engage in a full range of electoral activities, the elections ... will not be credible.

Quintana met with 15 prisoners during visits to three prisons, but his requests to meet with imprisoned opposition leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and junta leader Senior General Than Shwe [BBC profile] were denied. Quintana's report on the state of human rights in Myanmar is expected in March.

The ruling military junta released [JURIST report] 82-year old democracy activist U Tin Oo from six years of house arrest just days before Quintana's arrival. Oo, a decorated general, is the Vice-Chairman of the NLD, the opposition party headed by Suu Kyi. Thant Zin Oo, the general's son, said the release was a calculated political move [Irrawaddy report] designed to appease the UN. The government of Myanmar announced last year that it was processing grants of immunity [JURIST report] to allow prisoners to participate in the coming elections but it is unclear if the NLD will take part in them [AP report]. Home Minister Major General Maung Oo [official website] announced in January that Suu Kyi will be released from house arrest in November when her sentence is scheduled to expire. The announcement has been seen as an indication [AP report] that she will not be allowed to participate in the elections.

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