Burma jails UK activist for 17 years

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH activist was sentenced to 17 years in a Burmese jail after defying authorities by re-entering the country to continue his fight against the military junta.

James Mawdsley, 26, arrested this week, yesterday started his term after being found him guilty of illegally entering Burma and carrying anti-government literature. He had already been deported twice for pro-democracy protests and threatened with "severe punishment".

His mother, Diana, said she feared for her son, whom no one had seen since he was arrested on Tuesday at a market in the city of Tachilek, north-eastern Burma, and said he faced torture. Mrs Mawdsley, who lives in Durham, said it was likely he would be subjected to the same "tremendously effective" torture as before, including "bamboo rolling" and stressed the need to gain access to him.

"The length of James's sentence will be dealt with at higher levels but my concern is his physical condition at the moment.

"No one has seen him. We do not know how well he is."

Mrs Mawdsley visited her son at Insein Prison, in Rangoon, during a previous internment and described the place as "quite terrible".

A spokesman for Burma's military regime confirmed that a five-year sentence imposed on Mawdsley last year for illegal entry, then suspended when he was freed after three months, had been reinstated.

He was convicted of the same offence yesterday and received a further five years, plus seven years for violating a publications act. The sentences will run consecutively.

The British Embassy earlier said it had been told Mr Mawdsley would serve 12 years for the most recent convictions, but it had been unclear whether his old sentence would be reimposed.

Mr Mawdsley, who also holds Australian citizenship, was freed last year after serving three months of the five-year sentence.

A condition of his release, which the Burmese government said was made on humanitarian grounds after appeals by his parents and embassies, was that he would never return.

The military, which has ruled Burma since 1962, is condemned by many rights organisations and Western governments for its record of abuses and for suppressing the pro-democracy movement led by the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Foreign Office confirmed that it had sent the consul from Rangoon to Kengtung to see Mr Mawdsley, but the journey would take at least a day. A spokesman added: "We are concerned at certain aspects of the way the case has been handled ...

"In particular the speed with which Mr Mawdsley was sentenced and that we did not have access to him before the trial took place."