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“I’m an American”
Comments () | Published October 12, 2010
Gathered on December 1 in a DLA Piper conference room with Wa Wa and Beth Schwanke, another Freedom Now lawyer, Genser laid out a plan. He asked Schwanke to manage the day-to-day tasks of the case.

Nyi Nyi faced charges that he had been carrying fake identification—though he had his US passport and a valid visa with him—and failed to declare US currency, even though he was detained before he’d had a chance to declare anything at customs. An additional charge was tacked on later for Nyi Nyi’s failure to renounce his Burmese citizenship upon becoming a US citizen—something he had never been informed was required.

The charges were an excuse to jail Nyi Nyi for his political activism, and in Burma political prisoners have a 100-percent conviction rate. It wasn’t a question of whether Nyi Nyi would be found guilty but when.

Until the trial was over, Genser’s main objective would be to raise Nyi Nyi’s profile and to convince the State Department to up the pressure on the Burmese to send Nyi Nyi home.

Talking at his typical rapid-fire pace, Genser said the first task was to set up meetings on Capitol Hill and at State to spread the word about Nyi Nyi. The group was under a time crunch because Congress was going on recess in less than three weeks. They would work the Hill to get a letter sent before then from members of Congress to the Burmese government urging Nyi Nyi’s release.

Orchestrating such a letter was a usual first step in Genser’s cases and served to put the government detaining the political prisoner on notice that American policymakers were watching. If Genser could get the right members to sign—the ones from committees with oversight authority over State—the letter could heighten the State Department’s interest. And once the letter was ready for delivery, he could circulate a copy to media outlets in the hope of generating publicity.

The group debated whether to target the Senate or House for signatures. Genser pointed out that the Senate was dealing with the health-care bill, which meant staffers on that side were preoccupied. They had a better shot, he said, at getting more signatures in a short time from the House.

At the State Department, Genser said, the key official was assistant secretary Kurt Campbell, who handles US foreign policy with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Campbell had recently traveled to Burma, and Genser assumed Campbell had mentioned Nyi Nyi in his meetings with Burmese leaders. It was critical, Genser said, to find out from Campbell what had been said about Nyi Nyi.

With the strategy mapped out, the meeting ended on a positive note. “I am optimistic,” Genser said. “It’s just a matter of persistence. And we will persist.”

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 10/12/2010 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles