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Burmese Court Sentences Comedian-Activist to 45 Years in Prison

A court in military-ruled Burma has sentenced a popular comedian and pro-democracy activist to 45 years in prison. Three associates and a Buddhist monk also received lengthy sentences.

Authorities detained Maung Thura -- known by his stage name, Zarganar -- earlier this year after he organized private aid deliveries to victims of Cyclone Nargis. He was sentenced Friday for violating the Electronics Act, which regulates all forms of electronic communication. He still faces additional charges.

The court also sentenced three of Zarganar's associates. A prominent sports journalist, Zaw Thet Htwe, and a video journalist, Thant Zin Aung, were each sentenced Friday to 15 years behind bars, and another man, Tin Maung Aye, was jailed for 29 years.

Also Friday, Burmese authorities sentenced a monk, Ashin Gambira, who led pro-democracy protests last year on additional charges, bringing his total jail time to 68 years.

In other news, the United States announced that a senior U.S. diplomat will be traveling to Asia early next month for talks on Burma. Ambassador Scot Marciel will meet with Southeast Asian officials in Singapore and with Japanese officials in Tokyo.

Western nations and human rights groups have condemned the wave of sentences and called for the release of the activists at least 100 activists sentenced to lengthy prison terms in recent weeks.

Last week, 23 members of the opposition 88 Generation Students group were sentenced to up to 65 years in prison for organizing anti-government protests. Others sentenced include monks, poets, and some 70 members of the opposition National League for Democracy party headed by detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

So far, all of the sentences and trials have taken place in prison, where the dissidents are being held. Several of the activists' defense lawyers have been jailed while trying to defend their clients.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.