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SCMP-Fears for safety of jailed gem

Subject: SCMP-Fears for safety of jailed gem smuggler 

Saturday  May 1  1999
Fears for safety of jailed gem smuggler

GREG TORODE in Bangkok
Burmese human rights activists are urgently seeking information on an
Australian woman sentenced to 10 years in Rangoon's toughest prison for not
declaring gems worth US$3,600 (HK$27,800).

Bangkok-based Burmese exiles said they feared for the safety of the
53-year-old woman inside the notorious Insein Prison and believed she was
being used to scare Burmese into keeping their money inside the country.

"Even by the standards of this military regime, it seems to be a very harsh
sentence indeed," one activist said.

"We know many families see gems and jewellery as the only way that they can
get money out, so we are very worried this woman could be used as a warning,
irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the case."

The woman is seeking to appeal after being sentenced on gem smuggling
charges last November. A new hearing is expected this month.

She was apprehended in August after visiting relatives in Rangoon but it is
not known if she is a Burmese native. Australian diplomats who visited her
in prison confirmed she has a lawyer.

The said Australian privacy laws prevented them from revealing her identity.

It is understood consulate officers from the Australian Embassy in Rangoon
must still submit documents to prison authorities before passing them to the

Foreign Affairs officials said Australia could not be seen to openly
interfere in the court case at this stage, but said privately that the
"severity" of the sentence had been noted in Canberra.