[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] voiced concern Wednesday about the lengthy and "severe" prison sentences recently issued by a Myanmar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] court against pro-democracy demonstrators. He called for the country's military junta to release the more than 30 activists, along with all other political prisoners in a statement [text] urging national reconciliation. The sentences [JURIST report], imposed in connection with peaceful anti-government demonstrations [Independent backgrounder], were issued in closed-door proceedings and have been reported to be as lengthy as 65 years in some cases. Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) [official website] Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) [official website] also commented on the sentences and called for the UN to do more. The UN has visited the country over 40 times since 1990 in previous unsuccessful attempts at urging democratic reforms. AP has more. The Asian Tribune has local coverage.
The sentences were the latest step in what in what the UN Human Rights Council [UNHRC resolution], Human Rights Watch [HRW report], Amnesty International [AI report], and other right groups and agencies have identified as a systematic ongoing effort to repress dissenters. The European Union (EU) and the US have also expressed concern over human rights violations in the country and the lack of investigations in the aftermath of last year's violent government suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations. Human rights groups have estimated that more than 2,100 Burmese have been imprisoned for their religious and political beliefs despite the release [JURIST report] of over 9,000 political prisoners in September.