Marylander in a Burmese Jail: The State Department is Not Sure

December 16, 2009 at 5:48 pm 3 comments

On Monday’s show we updated you on the hunger strike undertaken by Maryland resident and U.S. citizen Kyaw Zaw Lwin. Today is day 12 of that strike. Lalit Jha, an Indian reporter who has been following Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s detention and trial for The Irrawaddy, has an update today about Sen. Mikulski’s and Sen. Webb’s efforts in the case.

He’s also been asking about the case at State Department briefings over the past few days. On Friday he asked State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly about the case. Here’s part of the exchange (Jha uses Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s family name Nyi Nyi Aung):

Q On a different issue, this American national arrested in Burma, he’s on hunger strike for last one week. His trial was scheduled for today but was canceled. (Inaudible) — have been denied to him. Do you have any details on this?

MR. KELLY: Do you remember the name of this individual?

Q Yeah. Nyi Nyi Aung. He’s an American national — (inaudible).

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I know that we’re aware of the situation, and the embassy has been in contact with the Burmese government to express our concern and to ensure that he’s being treated well. If I have other information — if we have other information that we can share with you, we’ll be happy to do that.

Q Has embassy been given access to him of late, after he went on hunger strike?

MR. KELLY: I believe the answer to that is yes, but because I want to be a hundred percent sure of that, let’s see if we can get you that information.

As we reported on Monday, the answer to that last question was actually “no.” The question was “taken,” which means the spokesperson checks on it and responds later via e-mail. Here’s the response to that, sent Monday.

Question Taken at the December 11, 2009 Daily Press Briefing

Burma: Kyaw Zaw Lwin Update

Question:  Can you provide on update on Kyaw Zaw Lwin?  Has the USG been granted consular access to Kyaw Zaw Lwin since his reported hunger strike?

Answer:  We are concerned about Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s health and are pressing for immediate consular access to him.  We were last granted consular access on December 3.

Burmese authorities cited Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s health as the reason his scheduled December 11 court hearing was postponed.

Jha asked about the case again yesterday, this time at a briefing with Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Philip Crowley:

Q Another American detained, arrested in Burma, who is in a jail now, he’s on a hunger strike. Do you have any update on that? Has the embassy been able to get access to him?

MR. CROWLEY: In what country?

Q In Burma.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. I do not have any information on that. I’ll take that question.

Q It’s already been taken. It was taken yesterday.

And today, with Ian Kelly.

Q When is the next round of talks between U.S. and Burmese authorities going to happen?

MR. KELLY: You know, Lalit, I’m not sure anything has been scheduled. I mean, you know, obviously we have an embassy there. And there’s quite a bit of engagement on that level. But I’m not sure when the next sort of formal talks are scheduled.

Q Do you have any further update on the American national who is arrested in Burma right now, who is on hunger strike? Do you know what his health conditions is? Have you got any consular access to him?

MR. KELLY: You know, I’m not sure that we’ve gotten consular access to him. Let me see if I can get you information on that, if we have an update.

At the same briefing, Kelly had considerably more information when asked about Aung San Suu Kyi.

Q In Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi has been allowed to meet with members of her own party. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. KELLY: Yes, I do. Of course, it’s the last one in a long series.

We welcome the decision by Burmese authorities to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to pay her respects to three senior members of the central executive committee of her party. We hope this is a step towards a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and the entire central executive committee of the National League for Democracy.

We continue to urge the Burmese government to engage Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition, ethnic leaders and other stakeholders in a genuine dialogue, to find a positive way ahead for the country.

Maryland Morning coverage of Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s case.

Entry filed under: Kyaw Zaw Lwin, Policy, Politics. Tags: .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Julia  |  December 16, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I think it’s important to ask the State Department why they’re paying such little attention to Kyaw Zaw Lwin compared to another American, John Yettaw, who was rescued by Sen. Webb in August after being imprisoned by the Burmese for swimming across a lake and illegally entering Aung San Suu Kyi’s house.

    Similarly Kyaw Zaw Lwin’s case has not obtained the high profile of similar incidents with American journalists imprisoned in Iran and North Korea. These last countries are also part of President Obama’s new engagement strategy, so could State’s treatment of Lwin be different since he’s originally from Burma?

    • 2. mdmorn  |  December 17, 2009 at 7:47 am

      It’s a good question. We haven’t gotten any explanation as to why the U.S. government seems to be giving the case less attention compared to Yettaw. Some U.S.-based Burma advocates that we’ve talked to attribute the general lack of attention–particularly on the part of the media–to the fact that “Kyaw Zaw Lwin” is a strange name for Americans and that his story doesn’t have the benefit of odd details like Yettaw’s, a Mormon Vietnam vet who was arrested after he swam across a lake and entered the compound of a Nobel Laureate.

  • 3. World focus on Burma (17-12-2009) « Save Burma  |  December 17, 2009 at 4:31 am

    […] Marylander in a Burmese Jail: The State Department is Not Sure […]


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