'Reptilian' Burmese junta can be beaten, says freed Briton

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The Independent Online

James Mawdsley, the human rights campaigner released from a Burmese jail, arrived back in Britain yesterday and described the military regime that held him prisoner for 415 days as stupid "reptiles".

James Mawdsley, the human rights campaigner released from a Burmese jail, arrived back in Britain yesterday and described the military regime that held him prisoner for 415 days as stupid "reptiles".

Mr Mawdsley, looking exhausted but in good spirits, called on the British government and the international community to force the Burmese junta to resign. "The international community can move that junta. My case showed that," he said. "They are terrified of anything they cannot control, of people who tell the truth. When the international community comes down on them they will panic and respond. The characteristic of the junta is their stupidity. They are reptiles.

"I have not apologised for what I have done because I haven't committed a crime."

Mr Mawdsley was sentenced to 17 years in jail for handing out pro-democracy leaflets and for speaking out against the military junta's slaughter of ethnic groups. It was the third time the Burmese authorities had detained him in two years. He spent over 23 hours daily in a small cell in Keng Tung jail, tortured, refused pen and paper and, apart from his parents, having outside contact only with the British vice-consul. He was beaten by guards, his nose was broken, and his food was contaminated after he wrote slogans on his wall.

"It is the mental conditions that are hardest," he said. "You think about everything you are saying, thinking, will this get me a beating?"

Earlier this month the United Nations ruled he was held unlawfully. He has no intention of returning. "I have seen what I wanted to see. I have learnt what I wanted to learn. I want to build on that in other ways. I'm not a man if I let that junta continue to persecute its people and not do anything about it."

His mother, Diana, a retired nurse from County Durham, said: "Obviously I'm proud of him. It's been a painful year." "

Mr Mawdsley called for the Burmese regime to be prosecuted for genocide, citing reports that 30,000 of the minority Karen people have been killed since 1992, and 300,000 forced to flee. Amnesty International says the government has killed, tortured, raped, imprisoned and forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands. There are an estimated 1,500 political prisoners in Burma and human rights organisations have repeatedly condemned the regime, the State Peace and Development Council.

A pro-democracy rally in 1988 ended in the massacre of 10,000 and elections in 1990 were annulled after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi got 80 per cent of the seats.

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