THE family of pro-democracy activist James Mawdsley plan a high-profile protest to mark the end of the first year of his 17-year prison sentence in Burma.

Mother Diana Mawdsley, a nurse from Brancepeth, near Durham, will be joined by other members of the family, plus friends, and supporters of her son's cause, in a vigil at Lambeth Pier, near the House of Commons, in London, next week.

The family hopes political pressure will be stepped up in support of the 27-year-old, who was sentenced the day after his arrest for handing out pro-democracy leaflets, angering the ruling Burmese military junta, on August 31 last year.

Mrs Mawdsley said intervention by politicians may be the only means of cutting short her son's jail term following the recent refusal of leave to appeal against the sentence by the Burmese high court in Mandalay. Mrs Mawdsley believes her son is an embarrassment to the Burmese government, and they do not want his case aired in open court.

But she said her son "remains strong" despite poor conditions in solitary confinement in his cell in the remote Kentung Prison, almost 400 miles north of the Burmese capital Rangoon.

The British Ambassador in Burma, Dr John Jenkins, is due to visit Mr Mawdsley in prison later this week, while Mrs Mawdsley and estranged husband David hope to see him in coming weeks.

"I hope my husband and I will meet with Foreign Office officials and it's our wish that it now becomes a political matter. The recent ruling was a government decision. It's obvious there's no independent judiciary in Burma.

"By refusing an appeal they are hoping to keep it all silent."

Mrs Mawdsley said her son's plight was receiving more support, with supporters including the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Alton, the leading QC, Lord Brennan, and the democracy campaign group, the Jubilee Trust.

"We have been inundated with calls from the general public and we know many well-wishers will be joining us outside Parliament next week."

The rally will be held on Thursday, August 31, at 6pm.