INTERNATIONAL human rights NGO Amnesty International has pushed for Burma’s (Myanmar’s) incoming government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), to break the cycle of political repression and release its political prisoners.
In its latest report, “New Expression Meets Old Repression“, the organization has appealed for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners still behind bars when the NLD-led government, headed by President-elect Htin Kyaw, comes into office on April 1.
Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia Director Champa Patel said that Burma’s legal framework “reads like a textbook of repression”, adding that authorities have in recent years increasingly used it to quell dissent.
Patel added that the new government faced a huge task in ensuring that their actions are not controlled by the repressive laws they will inherit.
“Despite their landslide election win, Burma’s flawed constitution will also ensure that the military still wields considerable power,” she said.
According to the report, there are at least 90 prisoners of conscience currently being held behind bars, with several hundred more on trial.
Among them are:
- 56 students or their supporters
- 13 community-based, labour and political activists
- 6 people in detention following pressure by Buddhist radical groups
- 6 people who mocked the military on Facebook
- 5 media workers
- 2 “solo protesters”
The report alleges that in the last two years, Burmese authorities have cracked down on critics and opponents, relying on various tactics and draconian laws to silence dissent, such as intimidation, harrassment and prison.
Patel called the arrests “deeply disturbing”, adding that the sheer number of jailed political prisoners was a “dark stain” on Burma’s record, and was a contradiction to the authorities’ claims to have turned a corner on human rights.
While Amnesty acknowledges that since 2011, more than 1,100 political prisoners have been released through 20 separate presidential amnesties or pardons, it still questions the NLD’s ability to make significant changes on the human rights front, as the country’s constitution still puts the military in charge of several key institutions – including the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the police and general administration of the country.
The organization therefore recommended that the new government establish a special committee for political prisoners to review relevant cases and ensure no peaceful activists are imprisoned, as well as to amend or repeal all laws used to infringe on human rights.