Chiang Mai - Prominent student leader Min Ko Naing and eight of his '88 generation student' colleagues have been sentenced to 65 years of imprisonment by a special court in Maupin prison in Burma's Irrawaddy Division, friends and family members said.
The former student leaders - Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Hla Myo Naung, Htay Kywe, Mya Aye, Nyan Linn, Phyone Cho (a.k.a) Htay Win, Aung Thu and Aung Naing – were sentenced on November 11th during a closed door trial in the Maupin prison court, a relative of the students told Mizzima.
The court prohibited the defendants from having a defense counsel and sentenced them on charges of violating the Electronic Act and forming an illegal organization. The students will continue to face trial on other charges, some 20 in all, the relative said.
The student leaders, who were transferred to Maupin prison earlier this month after the Insein prison court sentenced them to six month prison terms on charges of contempt of court, were reportedly sent back to Insein prison after they were sentenced and arrived at Insein prison on Saturday morning.
"Family members went to Maupin prison as they said they would be allowed to meet with the prisoners, but on the way they met the vehicle carrying the students. It was escorted by two police vans. They saw the van but did not realize it was them. And when they learned that they had been transferred back to Insein, they went to Insein prison," the relative said.
He added that family members were allowed to meet with the students for half an hour at Insein prison on Saturday.
The student leaders, widely known as the '88 Generation students', were arrested in August 2007, for peacefully marching the streets of Rangoon in protest against a sudden rise in fuel prices.
Following their arrests, the sporadic demonstrations they initiated evolved into the biggest anti-government demonstrations in nearly two decades, when Buddhist monks joined and led the masses. But the junta, which has a tradition of brutally crushing any anti-government movement, violently suppressed the protests, killing at least 30 people and arresting thousands.
Sources close to prison authorities said the student leaders, who had just arrived back at Insein prison, are likely to be transferred again to another prison in the near future.
While in Maupin prison, sources said the student leaders faced a daily closed door trial before they were finally handed their sentences.
The Insein prison court earlier this week sentenced fourteen '88 generation students' to similar long prison terms of up to 65 years. Additionally, several youth members of Burma's main opposition party – National League for Democracy – were also dealt lengthy prison terms.
Following the bloody crackdown of the 2007 protests, Burma's military junta stepped up its suppression of activists, arresting hundreds. And since July, authorities have held trials for several of the detained activists.
Observers and critics said the trial and sentences of activists to long prison terms is a part of the junta's plan to weaken opposition forces before its planned general election in 2010.
The junta announced that it will hold a general election in 2010, as part of its plan to democratize the country. The election is to be the fifth step of the junta's roadmap to democracy. In a referendum in May a draft constitution was approved, but critics say the whole process is meant only to legalize the junta's continued rule.