YANGON, Myanmar – A Myanmar court ordered a U.S. citizen on Wednesday to serve three years in prison for entering the military-ruled country with forged documents and undeclared foreign currency.
Nyi Nyi Aung, who was born in Myanmar, had faced a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison on a variety of charges that his lawyers had argued should not apply to foreigners.
The 40-year-old, who also goes by the name Kyaw Zaw Lwin, was arrested Sept. 3 on arrival at Yangon'sinternational airport. He was initially accused of plotting to stir up political unrest, which he denied.
His trial was held inside Myanmar's notorious Insein Prison, where a judge Wednesday convicted him on three charges.
He was sentenced to three years in prison for forging a national identity card, one year for possession of undeclared foreign currency and one year for violating Myanmar's so-called Resident Registration Act — under which he was accused of failing to renounce his Myanmar citizenship when becoming an American citizenand failure to inform authorities of his new address.
"He will serve the sentences concurrently, meaning he serves three years in prison," said defense lawyerNyan Win, who said lawyers planned to immediately appeal the ruling.
Nyi Nyi Aung had spent years campaigning for democracy in Myanmar from exile. The reason for his return to the country was not clear, but there has been speculation he hoped to see his mother and two cousins who are serving jail terms of up to 65 years for their pro-democracy activities.
"His morale is good and his spirits are high," Nyan Win said. Reporters were not allowed inside the courtroom.
Nyi Nyi Aung had staged a 12-day hunger strike in December to protest conditions of political prisoners in Myanmar, according to human rights groups, which say the country is holding more than 2,100 political prisoners.
The case comes at an awkward time for the United States, which recently eased its policy on Myanmar. Washington has modified a long-standing policy of isolating the junta in favor of engagement through high-level talks. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962.
A U.S. Embassy official was present at Wednesday's verdict.
The junta has been widely criticized for holding pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, under detention.
Nyi Nyi Aung was not an internationally known name until his arrest. As a teenager he helped organize students during Myanmar's 1988 pro-democracy uprising and later fled to the United States. According to dissident groups he is a resident of Maryland.