09/10/2014, 00.00
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Burmese activists: Despite promises, in 2014, a growing number of political prisoners

by Francis Khoo Thwe
President Thein Sein had promised the release of all prisoners of conscience by the end of 2013. In reality, the number has increased and is expected to grow even in these last months of the year. There are currently 122 people on trial for crimes of a "political" nature. In August, 28 new trials, five prisoners tortured in prison.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Despite President Thein Sein's promise to release all political prisoners from Burmese jails by the end of 2013, the number of prisoners for crimes of thought, opinion or conscience has "increased over the last year". This is denounced by activists from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP - Burma), one of the most important human rights groups in Myanmar.

In a monthly report sent to AsiaNews, the movement's leaders report that there are currently at least 84 political prisoners in prisons scattered around the country. At the same time, there are 122 other activists on trial on charges of a "political" nature. The report, which is based on data collected up to the end of August, states that "the number of political prisoners is expected to increase in the last period of 2014".

AAPP Founder Tate Naing is a former leader of the student uprising in 1988 and was sentenced to three years in prison in 1990 for political activities. As a former political prisoner, he founded the association based on the border between Thailand and Myanmar, and in all these years, has provided a detailed report on the situation in Burmese prisons.

The report aims to draw the attention of the Western governments, wrongly convinced that the problem of political prisoners, human rights and democracy in Myanmar has already been solved. "International pressure" on the Burmese government to keep its promises and honors its commitments, warn the movement leaders, is "essential" to "promote civil liberties" and continue on the path of reforms. Also, and especially, in view of the general and presidential elections of 2015.

According to AAPP the growth in the number of arrests and convictions for offenses of a political nature is largely attributed to the use of the controversial Section 18, inserted in the Framework Law on the right to peaceful assembly and procession. The ad hoc norm targets political activism and, in spite of the amendments adopted last June, "gives too much leeway to the authorities."

The activists have documented 28 cases of indictments for crimes of a political nature in the month of August; against the release of just one political prisoner, another five were beaten and tortured in prison. "The president [Thein Sein] has promised to release them all - attacks Khin Cho Myint, a spokesman for the group, in an interview with DVB - "He said there would be no political prisoners by the end of 2013. It has been eight months since he said that they all would be freed, but the number is only going up," she said. "We want to see this promise implemented","while in reality there are thousands of other Burmese citizens who risk jail - in August, authorities arrested at least 41 farmers - for demonstrating in defense of their lands.


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