An Australian who edited a newspaper in Myanmar was convicted of minor charges and set free Thursday in a case his associates believe was related to a business dispute with local partners.
The verdict was delivered on the same day Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd arrived on an official visit that fueled speculation Ross Dunkley would be let off lightly. Myanmar on occasion has showed foreign convicts leniency when VIPs from their home countries have visited.
The court in Yangon sentenced Dunkley, co-founder of the Myanmar Times newspaper, to 30 days imprisonment for the crime of 'simple hurt' and ordered a 100,000-kyat ($125) fine in lieu of a six-month jail term for violating conditions of his visa.
Dunkley, 55, afterward told reporters the verdict was "ridiculous" and he would appeal it.
"'I feel relieved, but why convict me of inappropriately touching the woman,' Dunkley said. "This is not the case. It is outrageous."
Dunkley's associates believed the charges had been designed to force him to relinquish control of the English-language Myanmar Times newspaper. He was ousted as editor after his Feb. 10 arrest.
The court acquitted Dunkley of drugging a person with intent to cause hurt, which carries a 10-year prison term. He was set free because he already served 44 days in prison before being released on bail.
Rudd is the highest-ranking official from Australia to visit Myanmar since its nominally civilian government took office in March. He plans to meet with the new government and assess political developments. Officials from China, United States, Thailand, Vietnam, Ukraine, Russia, the EU, India and Japan have also made recent visits.
Australia imposed financial and travel sanctions against members of the previous military regime, and banned defense exports to Myanmar after the regime failed to acknowledge the results of the 1990 election won by the party of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi urged Australian lawmakers in a video message last month to closely watch Myanmar's political situation. Critics say the transition to civilian rule is a charade to maintain army domination.