Lawyer: Myanmar-American weak after hunger strike

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2009 7:33 AM

A jailed U.S. citizen who was on hunger strike for more than a week in military-ruled Myanmar attended his trial Friday looking thin and weak, his lawyer said.

Myanmar authorities accused Kyaw Zaw Lwin _ also known as Nyi Nyi Aung _ of entering Myanmar to stir up protests by Buddhist monks, who led pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar in 2007 that were brutally suppressed by the junta.

Myanmar-born Kyaw Zaw Lwin was arrested on arrival at Yangon airport on Sept. 3 and was charged with forgery and violating the foreign currency exchange act.

Nyan Win, a lawyer for Kyaw Zaw Lwin, said he had little time to talk with his client at Friday's court appearance but learned from him that he had ended his hunger strike. The trial is still in the exploratory stage, with the case subject to dismissal.

The Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Freedom Now, which has also taken up Kyaw Zaw Lwin's case, said he initiated his hunger strike on Dec. 4 to protest conditions of political prisoners in Myanmar. Human rights groups estimate that there are more than 2,000 political prisoners in the country.

Nyan Win said his client "looks thinner and a bit weak," and that two prosecution witnesses testified at Friday's trial.

"The trial will resume on Dec. 29 when both sides will give their arguments whether to charge him or not," said Nyan Win.

Under Myanmar's legal system, defense and prosecution spend initial sessions presenting their case so the judges can determine whether to formerly charge the defendant and proceed with the trial. Nine prosecution witnesses have testified so far.

Kyaw Zaw Lwin was unable to appear in court last Friday because of poor health.

State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said last week that the United States had contacted the junta to express its worry and to make sure Kyaw Zaw Lwin is being treated well.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said Friday the government had not yet responded to its request for "immediate consular access to Kyaw Zaw Lwin outside the trial setting."

The U.S. Embassy was last granted consular access on Dec. 3.

The spokesman confirmed that the U.S. consul in Yangon attended Friday's court hearing and that Kyaw Zaw Lwin has resumed eating.