Burma told of UK 'fury' at beating of jailed campaigner

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The Independent Online

Britain protested to Burma yesterday about the brutal attack on a British human rights campaigner that was described as an "outrageous violation" by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.

Britain protested to Burma yesterday about the brutal attack on a British human rights campaigner that was described as an "outrageous violation" by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.

James Mawdsley, 27, who is serving a 17-year prison sentence, suffered a broken nose and two black eyes at the hands of prison guards after he complained about being held in solitary confinement. His parents said he was beaten by up to 15 men wielding sticks.

The Foreign Office minister Baroness Scotland yesterday summoned the Burmese Ambassador to express her "fury" over the beating. She said: "I have made our fury crystal clear to the Burmese authorities. They cannot treat a British national in this way. It is a gross abuse of human rights.

"I asked the Burmese Ambassador to tell his government that James must be released immediately or transferred to Rangoon where consular staff can watch over his welfare and ensure that this barbarism is not repeated.''

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, has already said that he was "shocked and appalled" by the beating.

Mr Mawdsley was arrested in August last year and jailed for distributing pro-democracy literature inside Burma. He is being held in a remote north-eastern prison where access by embassy officials is difficult, requiring at least a week's notice.

A senior British diplomat in the capital, Rangoon, said the kind of beating suffered by Mr Mawdsley was a common punishment in Burmese jails. "It is quite common in prison here and people die quite frequently during interrogation" he said.

Prisoners are usually forced to lower themselves into a squat and put their heads between their feet whenever guards approach, he added. "It exposes their backs and sensitive areas like the kidneys to beating with bamboo".

Opposition supporters in Rangoon meanwhile revealed details of the wave of arrests of National League for Democracy party members following last week's attempt by their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to leave the city. An estimated 140 NLD supporters were rounded up by police and military officials at Rangoon railway station last Thursday.

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