YANGON (Reuters) - Courts in military-ruled Myanmar have sentenced 17 more democracy activists to between two and 16 years in jail, intensifying a campaign to crush political dissent before a 2010 election, legal sources said Saturday.
The latest sentences, handed down Friday by secret courts in the former capital, Yangon, and the second city of Mandalay, bring the total number of activists jailed in the last two weeks to more than 60.
Many of those jailed for up to 65 years were involved in last year’s mass protests against rising fuel and food prices in the former Burma, which has been under military rule since 1962.
Many more rounded up during and after the protests are expected to be sentenced soon, with courts being ordered to work overtime and at weekends to clear the high number of outstanding cases, said one court official, who asked not to be named.
“Some courts seated inside the Insein Central Prison are working today. It’s unprecedented in the 20 years that I’ve been working in the service,” the official said.
Insein is the notorious prison compound in northern Yangon where most political prisoners are tried behind closed doors before being confined to Myanmar’s gulag.
“Many more activists are expected to be sentenced to various prison terms in the next few days as the courts have been instructed to expedite all pending cases,” the official added.
Information about the sentences is becoming harder to obtain, as several defense lawyers working for the activists have also been jailed for contempt of court.
Nyan Win, a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by detained Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, confirmed that at least a dozen of those convicted Friday were NLD members.
The United States, European Union and United Nations have all criticised the sentences and urged the junta to release the activists. By contrast, there has been little if any official reprimand from Myanmar’s neighbors.
Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Paul Tait