Burma: Increased number
of political prisoners calls for renewed international pressure
Paris, Bangkok, 15 July 2014:
Without genuine legislative reform and sustained international
pressure, the number of Burma’s political prisoners is
set to steadily rise, FIDH and its member organization, the
Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma), warned today.
As of 10 July 2014, there were 69 political prisoners - including
nine women – in jails across Burma. Among those incarcerated
were human rights defenders, journalists, members of ethnic-based
political organizations, peaceful protestors, activists, and
farmers. A year ago, on 15 July 2013, President Thein Sein pledged
to release all remaining political prisoners “by the end
of the year.” However, Thein Sein
failed to fulfill his promise and at the start of 2014,
approximately 40 political prisoners remained behind bars.
In addition, the government has greatly reduced the frequency
of the meetings of the Political Prisoner Review Committee,
the body tasked with identifying political prisoners and making
recommendations to the President for their release. Since January
2014, the government convened the Political Prisoner Review
Committee only twice.
“As a result of the international community’s
failure to hold President Thein Sein accountable for not keeping
his promise to free all dissidents, the Burmese government has
put the issue of the release of political prisoners on the back
burner,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.
“The best way the international community
can support Burma’s fragile transition to democracy is
to continue to pressure the Burmese government to free all dissidents
and repeal oppressive laws,” he added.
In connection with this call for renewed pressure to obtain
the release of all political prisoners, FIDH and ALTSEAN-Burma
today published the profiles
of eight prominent political prisoners who are serving lengthy
prison terms or have been jailed because of their activities
relating to the promotion and protection of human rights.
Many activists continue to be arbitrarily arrested and face
criminal charges under oppressive laws. Since first convening
in January 2011, Burma’s Parliament has repealed only
two laws, Law 5/96  and the 1962 Printers and Publishers
Registration Act , out of the 11 oppressive laws that the
UN identified as not in line with international standards.
On 18 June, Burma’s Parliament approved amendments to
the Peaceful Gathering and Demonstration Law, which perpetuate
restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly. Demonstrations
still require official permission, which authorities can now
refuse only for a “valid reason.” The vague wording
of this amendment is likely to result in the rejection of protest
permits by the authorities and the subsequent arrest of those
who demonstrate without permission. In addition, even though
the amended law reduced maximum prison terms for violators from
one year to six months, jail terms remain a threat against those
who participate in unauthorized demonstrations.
On 12 July, police in Rangoon’s Kamaryut Township charged
at least 20 journalists under the Peaceful Gathering and Demonstration
Law for holding a peaceful protest against the sentencing
of four reporters to 10 years in jail two days earlier.
“The recent sentencing of four reporters to
10 years in jail for writing an investigative article and imposing
criminal charges on at least 20 of their colleagues for a peaceful
protest are ominous signs of things to come. If the number of
political prisoners continues to rise at the current rate, Burma
is headed in the opposite direction of what Thein Sein promised,”
said ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie
Stothard. “It’s time to renew the push
to release all political prisoners, or Burma risks holding a
general election next year with dozens of dissidents behind
bars – an achievement for which neither the Burmese government
nor the international community should be proud,”