Van Nuys, CA – In response to the sentencing of U.S. citizen Nyi Nyi Aung to three years in prison with hard labor in his native Burma, Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-CA) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee today urged the Burmese military junta to release the prisoner immediately and called on the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury to consider tightening sanctions on the Burmese regime, in keeping with Obama Administration policy, to encourage progress in human rights.
Berman also called on the Administration to appoint a Special Representative and Policy Coordinator to Burma, as required by law under the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act, in order to promote a comprehensive international effort to restore civilian democratic rule, address the urgent humanitarian needs of Burma’s people and work for the release of all political prisoners there.
“The sentencing of Nyi Nyi Aung is a serious impediment to improved relations with the United States at a time when our country has embarked on a new approach toward Burma,” Berman said. “Months after this new approach was announced, it is disappointing that the junta has failed to respond to formal diplomatic complaints regarding his reported severe mistreatment, including allegations of torture and repeated, lengthy denials of access to consular services through the U.S. embassy.”
Nyi Nyi Aung, also known by his legal name in his American passport as Kyaw Zaw Lwin, lives in Maryland and is an active advocate for human rights in Burma. He was arrested upon arrival at a Burmese airport in September when he visited Rangoon to see his mother, a democracy activist who is in prison and suffering from cancer. He was accused of trying to foment political unrest, but later convicted of carrying false identification and undeclared U.S. currency, as well as failing to renounce his Burmese nationality upon becoming a U.S. citizen in 2002. The State Department yesterday called his conviction unjust and the charges politically motivated.
In December Berman led 53 members of Congress in writing a letter to the top official of the Burmese government, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, calling for Nyi Nyi Aung’s release and return to the United States.