The Chargé in Burma ( Day ) to the Secretary of State

No. 487

Ref: Embtel 467, dated January 17, 19512

Subject: Forwarding Press Copies of Judgment in Seagrave Case

There is enclosed a copy of the text of the judgment in the Seagrave case3 which was released to and reported in the English language newspapers of Rangoon. The Embassy has not been able to obtain a certified copy as yet. The Attorney is awaiting a certified copy for use in preparing an appeal. The decision of the Special Tribunal was delivered by Justice Ba Swe on the morning of January 17, 1951. The Court found Dr. Seagrave guilty of the second and third charges brought against him under section 4(1) of the High Treason Act. The charges are quoted in enclosure No. 2.to this Despatch.4 Dr. Seagrave was sentenced to six years of imprisonment on account of the second charge and to one year of imprisonment under the third charge. The sentence under the third charge runs concurrently with the other. The Tribunal declared Dr. Seagrave not guilty of the first charge.

It should be borne in mind that the sentence is not one of high treason but of aiding a person known to be committing high treason.

Were the sentence for a term shorter than six years, it would not have been possible under Burmese law to appeal.

Dr. Seagrave’s attorney, UKyaw Myint, is preparing an application for release on bail but feels that there is little hope of this being granted.

The appeal against the sentence will go before two or three justices of the High Court of Burma. The justices will be selected by the Ministry [Page 268] of Judicial Affairs from among the six justices of the High Court. This circumstance permits the civil authorities, if they should wish to do so, to select judges whom they think may be favorably disposed toward one side of the case or the other.

U Kyaw Myint thinks that if the sentence is upheld Seagrave will not be required to serve six years in prison in Burma but will be asked or allowed to leave Burma. Dr. Seagrave is aware of this likelihood and is steeling himself for this outcome and beginning to think over where he might go and what he might do in the future.

As of the morning of January 19, Dr. Seagrave’s morale and spirits were good. In the Central Jail, to which he was taken directly after his sentence was delivered, he is lodged in a small wooden house raised about six feet off the ground. This prevents prisoners staring at him. When he was in jail before, the staring by other prisoners was one of the causes of the mental anxiety he suffered. The small house has its own bathroom. Dr. Seagrave’s sister, Rachel, has provided a kerosene stove. Another prisoner has been assigned to cook for him and Dr. Seagrave is teaching this prisoner how to cook; His secretary, Pansy Po, who has been in Rangoon since she testified on his behalf, will visit him twice a week, bringing a cooked meal. The Superintendent will allow Pansy Po and Dr. Seagrave’s sister, Rachel, to visit him twice a week for the time being. The usual limit is once a week. Dr. Seagrave’s house is situated on the hospital grounds of the Central Jail and has electricity. The Embassy will supply Dr. Seagrave with reading matter and cigarettes and such other comforts as it can furnish.

The Attorney, U Kyaw Myint, thinks that the decision on the appeal will be delivered in about one month. Judging from previous delays, the Embassy believes that the appeal proceedings may last more than a month. The Embassy has expressed to the Foreign Office the hope that the proceedings would be expedited in view of the previous delays and the great mental strain under which Dr. Seagrave has been living for the past five months. The decision against Dr. Seagrave came as a great surprise to most people. The betting odds among press correspondents in Rangoon were 100 to 1 that he would be acquitted. The only foreign correspondent present was Mr. James Burke of TimeLife. He is preparing material which may be used for a cover story on Dr. Seagrave in the near future.

An officer of the Embassy attended all the sessions of the Tribunal, with the exception of short periods of testimony given in the Burmese language. The Embassy is endeavoring to obtain a transcript of the evidence for transmittal to Washington. Part of the evidence is in [Page 269] Burmese which will have to be translated. A set of clippings is being forwarded with Despatch 494 of January 19, 1951.5

While prospects of a reversal of decision seem remote, some hope is offered by the circumstance that if the sentence had been a shorter period an appeal could not have been made. The Embassy concludes from this that the way for an appeal was left open deliberately. U Kyaw Myint does not think there is a likelihood of a pardon by the President.

Henry B. Day
  1. Not printed; it contained a brief summary of the material contained in this despatch (790B.00/1–1751).
  2. For previous documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. vi, pp. 253 ff.; see also the editorial note, infra.
  3. Neither this enclosure nor enclosure No. 1 is here printed.
  4. Not printed.