Junta frees Myanmar-American, deports him

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.