Former underground activist and Karen National Union (KNU) leader Mahn Nyein Maung was sentenced to life imprisonment plus three years by a special court in Insein Prison in Rangoon.
“Mahn Nyein Maung got a life sentence after being found guilty of participating in acts of war against the country and the ruling government, and an additional three years for having connections to an illegal organization. The sentences are to be served consecutively,” said his lawyer Kyee Myint.
“It seems to me that he has been mentally affected by all this,” his lawyer said. “He should see a psychologist and needs medical attention.”
David Takapaw, the vice-president of the KNU, urged the government to release the Karen veteran. He said such a move would help create trust between the two parties [the KNU and the Burmese government], and could play a part in affecting the process of peace and national reconciliation.
“The government promised they would release Mahn Nyein Maung to create trust,” he said. “If not, it will be impossible to reconcile.
“We will wait and see whether they release him in a presidential amnesty,” said Takapaw.
He added that, in the meantime, the KNU would file an appeal against the court decision.
According to the KNU vice-president, a promise was made by government negotiator and Railways Minister Aung Min that Mahn Nyein Maung would be released after sentencing through a presidential amnesty.
During ceasefire discussions in the second week of January, Aung Min said President Thein Sein would make this gesture as a sign of goodwill and a step toward making a peace deal with the Karen rebels, said Takapaw.
Mahn Nyein Maung is a prominent KNU leader and a central committee member of the United Nationalities Federal Council ethnic armed alliance.
He was arrested in July 2011 by Chinese immigration officials in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, after being denied entry to Thailand where he was living in exile. He was then deported from China to Burma where he was taken into custody.
He was originally sentenced to one year imprisonment for breaking immigration laws and possessing a fake passport—later reduced to six months when the prison term had already been served.
Mahn Nyein Maung is a former underground activist who conducted operations on behalf of the KNU inside Burma. In 1960, he was arrested and was sent to the Coco Islands, an infamous detention center for political prisoners located some 300 km off the Burmese mainland in the Indian Ocean.
Mahn Nyein Maung and two other political prisoners, Mahn Aung Kyi and Aung Ngwe, managed to escape from the island in 1970 by floating across the water clutching driftwood. However, they were rearrested when they reached the Burmese mainland. It is the only known escape from the prison, located on what is commonly referred to as “Burma’s Devil’s Island.”
Due to his extraordinary escape, Mahn Nyein Maung is frequently likened to the famous French prisoner Henri Charrière, nicknamed “Papillon” [butterfly], who escaped a penal colony in French Guyana. Like Charrière, Mahn Nyein Maung wrote a book about his experiences inside prison and his subsequent escape Irrawaddy news