UN experts strongly condemn the severe convictions and unfair trials in Myanmar

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GENEVA - Five United Nations experts* strongly condemned severe convictions and the unfair trials of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar.

Following one year of arbitrary detention, dozens of individuals who had been arrested in connection with peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar last year, are since August 2008 being tried by courts.

The closed-door hearings are being held inside prisons by courts which lack independence and impartiality. Three of the defence lawyers have been sentenced to several months of imprisonment for contempt of court, after they transmitted their clients' complaints of unfair trials. Since early November several other defence lawyers have been barred from representing their clients.

Last week, a dozen detainees, including several women, were each given 65-year prison sentences. More than twenty other detainees, including five monks, were recently sentenced to up to 24 years imprisonment. Many other detainees still await sentencing.

The UN experts strongly urge the Myanmar authorities to cease harassing and arresting individuals for peacefully exercising their internationally recognized human rights. They further demand that all detainees be retried in open hearings respecting fair trial standards and the immediate release of their defence counsels.

The experts reiterate previous calls to initiate reforms for a transition to a multiparty democratic and civil government, as envisaged by the new Constitution. In this context, they strongly urge the authorities to immediately commence work on ensuring those indispensable pre-conditions for free and fair general elections to be held in 2010.

These include a comprehensive review of national legislation to ensure its compliance with international human rights standards, the release of political prisoners of conscience, and reform of the armed forces and the judicial system.

* The Special Rapporteurs Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana (situation of human rights in Myanmar), Mr. Leandro Despouy (independence of judges and lawyers), Mr. Frank La Rue (freedom of opinion and expression), Ms. Margaret Sekaggya (situation of human rights defenders) and Ms. Asma Jahangir (freedom of religion or belief).