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Home > Burma issue > Political Prisoners


James Leander Nichol's Death

Imprisoned For Owning an Illegal Fax Machine in Burma

The 1996 death of Scandinavian consul James Leander Nichols shows the fatal consequences of the military's repressive policies. Nichols, a friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, was imprisoned by the military for owning a fax machine which is a criminal offense if the machine hasn't been registered with the authorities. It is widely believed that Mr. Nichols was tortured to death in prison. Although the Scandinavian countries demanded to send investigators to Burma, the dictatorship would not allow this. Instead, the military announced that Mr. Nichol's death was likely caused from eating too much rich food in prison. This event played a significant role in the European Union's decision to impose visa restrictions and other punitive measures against the SLORC regime.

The death of James Leander Nichols sparked the United Nations to request a response from the SLORC about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Leander's death. The following is the dictatorship's response:

RE: James Leander Nichols

Death of Mr. James Leander Nichols, a Myanmar citizen

25. Following the death in Myanmar of Mr. James Leander Nichols on 22 June 1996, some Western countries requested initially from the Myanmar authorities information on the circumstances leading to the death of Mr. Nichols and, subsequently, the exhumation of the body of the deceased for an internationally renowned specialist to perform an autopsy.

26. Mr. Nichols, aged 64, was a holder of a Myanmar citizenship card. He had committed criminal offences in 1980. Consequently, he was found guilty by the district court concerned under section 11/24 (b) of 1947 Foreign Currency Exchange Act. He was, as a result, sentenced to two-and-a-half months' imprisonment in 1982. Accordingly, his appointment as the Honorary Consul General of some Western countries was revoked in 1983. Once again in 1996, it was found that Mr. Nichols had infringed section 61 of the Burma Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933 and Amendment Law No. 13/93 of 22 November 1993. He was granted a fair trial. As the district court found him guilty under section 61 of the above-mentioned Act, he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

27. Mr. Nichols was well looked after and given full and proper treatment while in prison. During three months of detention, the prison physician conducted a thorough medical examination of Mr. Nichols and gave him necessary treatment eight times, i.e., on 12, 16 and 24 April, 2, 5, and 23 May and 7 and 22 June 1996.

28. Mr. Nichols regularly received medication from the attending physician while in prison. In addition, he received medicine and food parcels from his family and friends. Far from being maltreated, he was allowed to live in conditions of considerable comfort and decency in the prison.

29. It was known to all his inmate friends that Mr. Nichols had a long history of serious health problems. He had high blood pressure, a heart condition, glaucoma in the right eye, diabetes and back pain. On the morning of 22 June, Mr. Nichols, after having consumed dried pork and fried fish-paste provided by his family, was relaxing in his room when he collapsed suddenly and lost consciousness. The prison physician checked his pulse and found that his blood pressure was running at 200/100. He was immediately taken to the Yangon General Hospital and was given necessary medical treatment. However, he died of cardiac disease at 1300 hours local time on the afternoon of 22 June 1996. An autopsy carried out by the lecturers-pathologists at the Yangon General Hospital established that the cause of death of Mr. Nichols was cardiac disease. Therefore the Government of Myanmar considered that: (a) There exists no legal ground or basis for outsiders to probe into the matter relating to the death of Mr. James Leander Nichols in Myanmar on 22 June 1996 as he was merely an ordinary citizen of Myanmar and died of natural cause; (b) It has been long established in State practice beyond any reasonable doubt that the death of an ordinary citizen of a country owing to a natural cause is a matter falling entirely within the domestic jurisdiction of the country. Any attempt by outsiders to impose an investigation into the non-issue will run counter to the principles of State sovereignty and national jurisdiction.

30. Myanmar therefore rejects the request to send an internationally renowned forensic expert to Myanmar to investigate the matter. There exists no reason whatsoever to consider such a request.


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