Myanmar Foreigners To Be Deported
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Eighteen foreign activists _ including six Americans _ were sentenced today to five years of hard labor for handing out pro-democracy leaflets, but will be deported from Myanmar within a day.
Moments after a judge sentenced the activists to prison, an official from the Ministry of Home Affairs read an order reducing the sentences and saying the activists would be deported on condition they not violate Myanmar laws again.
He asked diplomats of the six Asian and Western nations from which the activists came to arrange for their deportations by Saturday morning.
The defendants, who appeared solemn when the judge read out the five-year sentence, jumped up, embraced each other, shook hands and thanked those in the courtroom after the deportation order was announced.
They were also embraced by diplomats from their respective countries who attended the one-day trial in a small concrete courthouse outside the walls of Insein Prison north of Yangon.
``We are thrilled. We are excited,″ said Callie Keegan, the mother of one of the detainees, Michele Keegan, 19.
``We knew this was going to happen, that the five-year sentence was going to be reduced. She’ll be on the plane tomorrow,″ Mrs. Keegan said from her home in Hamilton Township, N.J.
In Portsmouth, N.H., there also was rejoicing at the home of college student Anjanette Hamilton.
``We were in tears and now we’re jumping up and down with joy,″ said Jan Collier, Hamilton’s aunt.
From Washington, the reaction was more somber.
``But while we’re pleased that these American citizens will be returning to the United States, this episode is a reminder that there is an absence of protection of human rights in Burma and a failure of the Burmese government to allow freedom of expression,″ said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
The U.S. Embassy said all 18 detainees would be leaving Yangon on Saturday for Bangkok, and would spend their last night in the Myanmar capital in a police guest house.
The other American activists are Nisha Marie Anand, 21, of Atlanta, Joel Edward Greer, 34, of New York, Tyler Richard Gianni, 28, of Virginia and Sapna Chatpan, 21. The hometowns of Greer, Gianni and Chatpan were not immediately available.
The six Americans, three Malaysians, three Indonesians, three Thais, two Filipinos and one Australian were charged _ after six days of questioning and investigation _ with the 1950 Emergency Provision Act.
The sweeping law allows for maximum 20-year jail terms for inciting unrest and disturbing the peace and tranquility of the state.
The reduction in sentences came after one of the defendants, a Malaysian man, appealed to the judge. He said he and his colleagues didn’t intend to incite unrest and were unaware of the local laws.
Some observers said the episode appeared pre-planned. The Myanmar government was caught between trying to discourage foreign activists from coming to the country and inciting revolt, and further souring relations with the governments of the countries from which they come.
There was a single judge but no jury at the trial, which was open to diplomats and journalists.
The activists were detained Sunday, the day after the 10th anniversary of a failed nationwide democracy uprising, for handing out small cards to Myanmar citizens telling them the outside world supported their struggle and to not give up.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been ruled by the military in various guises since 1962. More than 3,000 demonstrators were gunned down during the 1988 uprising.
Diplomats who had visited the activists before the trial had described them as cheerful and well-fed.
Earlier this year, the military government sentenced a British-Australian national, James Mawdsley, to five years in prison for handing out pro-democracy leaflets. He was released after three months.