November 18, 2008 / 11:27 AM / 11 years ago

U.N. rights experts condemn Myanmar activist trials

GENEVA, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Democracy activists in Myanmar jailed for long terms after unfair trials should be retried in open hearings, United Nations investigators urged the ruling junta on Tuesday.

A dozen detainees were sentenced last week to 65 years each in prison for involvement in last year’s mass protests against Myanmar’s military rule, the five human rights experts said in a joint statement condemning the convictions.

They also demanded the release of three defence lawyers, whom they said were sentenced to prison for contempt of court after raising clients’ complaints about the hearings held inside prisons.

Another 20 people, including five monks, were recently sentenced to up to 24 years prison.

"The closed-door hearings are being held inside prisons by courts which lack independence and impartiality," the U.N. investigators said.

Myanmar authorities — whom activists say have intensified a campaign to crush dissent before a 2010 election — must "cease harassing and arresting individuals for peacefully exercising their internationally recognised human rights", they said.

The investigators, who report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, include Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

The Argentinean lawyer made his first trip to Yangon last August, meeting prominent political prisoners including representatives of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy.

The four other rapporteurs are Leandro Despouy, on the independence of judges and lawyers; Frank La Rue, on freedom of opinion and expression; Margaret Sekaggya, on human rights defenders; and Asma Jahangir on freedom of religion or belief. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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