78-year-old former political prisoner receives 17-year sentence

The military council sentenced an activist leader of the 1988 pro-democracy protests, now nearing 80 years of age, to 17 years in Mandalay’s Obo Prison on Monday.

Shwe Htoo, 78, had already spent nearly two decades of his life in prison under a previous dictatorship for his role in the protests of 1988. He was arrested on April 29 at a plantation site in Sakhan Ward near his home in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay Region, along with two friends: Sein Lin, 57, and Banyar, who is in his 40s. 

The detainees were then held and interrogated at Obo Prison. Shwe Htoo’s friends were convicted on two counts of terrorism each, and all three received 17-year sentences eight months after their arrest. 

It is believed that Shwe Htoo was also convicted of terrorism but Myanmar Now has yet to confirm the charges. 

“The sentence was handed down by the Pyin Oo Lwin District Court through video conferencing at the Obo Prison Court,” said a source close to Shwe Htoo’s family, who preferred to remain anonymous.

“The military accused him of being a terrorist,” the source added. “But my interpretation is that they imprisoned him simply because he was a politician.”

According to the same source, Shwe Htoo’s state of health is unknown as his family is not allowed to visit him in prison.

“The last time we heard from him was when he first arrived in Obo Prison and he asked us to send him food and clothing,” the source added.

Shwe Htoo was a retired teacher when he became involved in the Mandalay Strike Committee during the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, for which he spent three years in prison. In 1998, he was imprisoned again under the Than Shwe dictatorship. 

After his release in 2012 during a period of nascent democratic reform, he remained politically engaged. When Ko Ko Gyi—another activist leader of the 1988 pro-democracy movement—assumed chairmanship of the newly founded People’s Party in 2018, Shwe Htoo was appointed party patron for Mandalay Region.

However, according to sources close to him, Shwe Htoo resigned from the party after the February 2021 military coup.

“He’s very old now and he’s a man of respectable reputation, so the military council should really try to minimize his punishment,” said a Mandalay-based politician who requested anonymity. “I always have and always will respect him for his efforts to support democracy and human rights.”

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