“Kyaw Zaw Lwin spent seven months in unjust confinement and we are all relieved that his ordeal is now over. Sadly, while he is coming home, Burma’s junta continues to hold its grip on 2,200 political prisoners. All are jailed for one reason — their efforts to convince the Burmese junta to respect basic human rights and agree to a genuine democratic process.” – John Kerry, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
Friday, March 19
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - A U.S. citizen accused of subversion was released from prison in his native Myanmar and deported Thursday after serving part of a three-year prison sentence.
Kyaw Zaw Lwin, also known as Nyi Nyi Aung, had been arrested when he arrived at Yangon's international airport Sept. 3 on accusations he was plotting to stir political unrest, which he denied.
The 40-year-old was sentenced in October for forging a national identity card, possessing undeclared foreign currency, and failing to renounce his Myanmar citizenship when becoming an American citizen.
He was released Thursday after 6½ months in prison and escorted aboard a flight to Thailand accompanied by a U.S. consular official, said his aunt, Khin Khin Swe.
"He looks well and happy, though much thinner than before," Khin Khin Swe said.
"I am very happy for him but I want families of other prisoners of conscience to be happy and hope that all will be released," she said, adding that five of her relatives are in prison, including her son-in-law.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed the release and said: "We welcome that development."
As a teenager in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, Kyaw Zaw Lwin helped organize students during the country's 1988 pro-democracy uprising and later fled to the United States. His reason for returning to Myanmar was not clear, though there has been speculation he hoped to see his jailed relatives.
Attorney Beth Schwanke of the Washington-based advocacy group Freedom Now said that Kyaw Zaw Lwin had spoken by phone with his fiance, Wa Wa Kyaw, and would return Friday to their home in Montgomery Village, Maryland.
"She says he's exhausted and has clearly been through a horrible ordeal, and he sounds strong and that he's thrilled to be released and coming home to Maryland," Schwanke said.
Wa Wa Kyaw released a statement thanking the U.S. State Department and members of Congress for helping secure her fiancee's release.
U.S. Congressman Chris Van Hollen called Kyaw Zaw Lwin's case a "miscarriage of justice."
"His imprisonment, trial, and sentencing were a travesty and an affront to the rule of law," Van Hollen said in a statement. "While I am pleased Nyi Nyi Aung has been set free, we must continue to press for the release of all political prisoners held by the Burmese junta."
Myanmar's military government holds more than 2,000 political prisoners, according to the U.N. and independent human rights organizations. The most prominent is opposition party leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The 1991 Nobel peace laureate has been detained for about 14 of the last 20 years, and is currently under house arrest, from which she is due to be released in November.
Kyaw Zaw Lwin's mother is serving a five-year prison term for political activities, and his sister was sentenced to 65 years in prison for involvement in 2007 pro-democracy protests, which government forces brutally suppressed, activist groups and family members say.
Last year, another American was deported by Myanmar. John Yettaw, whose case attracted considerably more attention, was sentenced to seven years in prison in August for sneaking into Suu Kyi's home, but released less than a week later after a visit to the country by U.S. Senator Jim Webb.
Friday, March 5
US naval ships started a three-day training exchange program with Bangladesh on Tuesday on the Bay of Bengal near Burmese territorial waters, said an official source. “The training program started yesterday on the offshore island of Kutubdia in Cox’s Bazaar District, located near the Burmese border. In the training, 200 US naval personnel are participating,” the source said.
US Navy Commander Adam J. Welter is conducting the training with an estimated 200 naval personnel on board the USS Ingraham.
Commander Welter told journalists that the training is aimed at strengthening the relationship with Bangladesh through mutual cooperation and understanding.
The training is being conducted as part of a goodwill visit to Bangladesh, and will be carried out as the ship travels to Singapore from Bahrain, where it was engaged in anti-terror vigilance until two weeks ago.
The US and Bangladesh naval forces will share their experiences and knowledge as part of the training, not just militarily but also technical knowledge. Such joint military training missions are occasionally carried out by Bangladesh and the US in the Bay of Bengal.
Tuesday, March 2
The documentary “Burma VJ” is in the running for an Oscar for best feature-documentary at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards show which will be broadcast worldwide on Sunday night in the United States.“If “Burma VJ” receives the Oscar, it will be the first time in history that a whole nation’s population will receive the Oscar,” said Jan Krogsgaard, the originator and scriptwriter of the film. “I think even the generals of Burma would like to see this happen, deep inside themselves, and find peace within their own life.”
“Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country” tells the story of how Burmese video journalists took to the streets and filmed the September 2007 mass demonstrations in Rangoon. It is among five documentaries nominated this year.
Other nominees are “The Cove,” about a hidden dolphin slaughter in a Japanese town; “Food, Inc.,” a story of the horrors of factory farms, slaughterhouses and meat plants in the US; “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers,” the story of a high-level Pentagon official and Vietnam War strategist who in 1971 concluded that the war was based on decades of lies and leaked top secret documents to The New York Times; and “Which Way Home,” a film that follows unaccompanied child migrants on their journey through Mexico as they try to reach the United States.
“Burma VJ” has already won 33 awards—including World Cinema Documentary Film Editing and Golden Gate Persistence of Vision prizes.
Most of the material for the film was shot by Burmese video journalists at great personal risk and smuggled out of the country to the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). A Danish professional film-maker, Anders Østergaard, directed the film, which was released to wide acclaim this year.
In an interview on the Oscar official Web site, producer Lise Lens-Moller said: “Burma had almost vanished from the global consciousness when we started working on the film in 2004 and the VJ’s main motivation for risking their lives and their freedom everyday was to try and bring attention to their situation. I hope the Oscar nomination will keep the Burmese people’s struggle alive and supported around the world.”
The live announcement of the Oscar winner will attract Burmese communities around the world.
“It must be a historical milestone,” said Khin Maung Win, the deputy executive director of the Democratic Voice of Burma. “Even if Burma VJ does not win the prize, the film will bring attention to our democracy movement.”