British woman protester released from jail after parents pleaded with Burmese

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH activist who staged a one-woman protest against Burma's military regime was released from jail in the capital, Rangoon, yesterday after serving just two months of a seven-year sentence.

Rachel Goldwyn, 28, from Barnes in south-west London, was jailed in September for "endangering state security" by tying herself to a lamppost in central Rangoon and shouting pro-democracy slogans.

Her parents, Ed and Charmain Goldwyn, who were unaware of their daughter's plans to visit Burma, flew to Rangoon last month and mounted a campaign to secure her release. They pleaded with the authorities who finally responded to the request for clemency. A spokesman for the Foreign Office called the release "a victory for quiet diplomacy".

Ms Goldwyn, a graduate from the London School of Economics, developed an interest in the Burmese pro-democracy movement while working in a refugee camp in Thailand two years ago. Thousands of Burmese - particularly ethnic tribe members - are living in refugee camps along the Burmeseborder with Thailand.

Knowing her parents would try to dissuade her from going to Burma, she left them a note warning them that she would be arrested but assuring them that she would be deported to Thailand immediately. "Please know that I'll be home in about two weeks' time," she wrote. "I'll be deported to Bangkok pretty soon. Don't fear, don't panic, please be calm." Her confidence proved unfounded, however, when she was jailed.

Ms Goldwyn's parents pleaded for her release, telling the Burmese authorities that their daughter had recognised that her actions were misguided.

They spoke out against a protest in London calling for her release along with that of James Mawdsley, a 26-year-old activist who was jailed for 17 years shortly before Ms Goldwyn, for staging his own unrelated pro- democracy demonstration. They described the rally as "well meaning" but said it could damage their daughter's chances of an early release. The couple were allowed to see Ms Goldwyn 10 times at the notorious Insein prison and were satisfied that she was being treated well.

Yesterday there was no word from either Ms Goldwyn or her parents, but the Burmese government said that they had embarked on a "sight-seeing tour" in the North of Burma shortly after Ms Goldwyn's release. And a spokesman for the British embassy said that it was not aware when they planned to leave the country.

Ms Goldwyn's sister, Naomi Rose, said that she had been told of the release in a phone call from the Foreign Office. "At first it did not sink in but I have had a permanent smile since then," she said. "We are planning a homecoming party."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said that Ms Goldwyn's parents had insisted on leading a quiet campaign for their daughter's release. "They said that it was what they wanted," said the spokesman. "We were able to assist them, making sure they saw the right people."

The country's military regime is trying to promote Burma as a tourist destination, something that the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, says she willl oppose until democracy is restored. Her National League for Democracy party achieved a landslide victory in the last election in 1990 but has never been allowed to govern.

The military took power in 1988 when it crushed a pro-democracy uprising, killing at least 3,000 people. It has ruled by intimidation and fear, arresting any dissenters, including students as young as 14.

Mr Mawdsley, a Bristol University student, was arrested for the third time one week before Ms Goldwyn's protest while distributing pro-democracy pamphlets and tapes. Imprisoned in the north-east town of Kengtung, he has refused to appeal against his sentence, saying he does not recognize the junta. Unlike Ms Goldwyn, he received no trial.

During her case Ms Goldwyn confessed to staging the protest but said that she had not intended to cause an affray. "My demonstration was to show the extent of control in your country," she told the judge."It was not to undermine stability."

Burmese pro-democracy dissidents recently stormed the nation's embassy in Bangkok in an attempt to draw attention to the situation in their country. They released all the hostages and were allowed to go free by the Thai authorities.