10/29/2015, 00.00
Send to a friend

Activists demand the release of all political prisoners ahead of Myanmar’s elections

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Around a hundred people are still held in prison as prisoners of conscience, including five Christians from ethnic minorities. Some 60 students are also in prison for protesting against the government’s education reform. The NLD’s deputy chairman is favourable to a general amnesty.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Human rights activists and religious leaders issued a new appeal for the release from prison of all political prisoners ahead of Myanmar’s 8 November parliamentary elections.

Around a hundred people are still thought to be in jail as prisoners of conscience, plus scores of students involved in protest.

In view of this, Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has called on President Thein Sein to free all political prisoners and students jailed earlier this year as proof of the country’s democratisation process.

The independent human rights group composed of 15 bureaucrats and academics wants the government to grant amnesty to political prisoners who have been sentenced, so they can vote in the elections.

“We want to hold free and fair elections with all political parties, candidates and people,” said NHRC member Nyan Zaw. “We also want sentenced prisoners, detainees and students in custody to participate in the election. If they are released, they all can vote.”

Tin Oo, deputy chairman of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told Radio Free Asia that he supports the move to release all political prisoners so they can vote in the national elections. The same applies to students detained for protesting against the controversial National Education Law. “It’s time for them to be released,” he insisted.

However, other lawmakers and former political prisoners doubt the president would grant an amnesty for political prisoners.

Political prisoners who are released can vote only after they register with the Union Election Commission (UEC), the body overseeing Myanmar’s polls.

As the election process stands now, the elections are unfair, this according to human rights experts.

The impartiality and fairness of the process is already vitiated by the current constitution, which reserves 25 per cent of all seats to appointed senior military officers and representatives.

Under such circumstances, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the political mouthpiece of the former ruling military junta, only needs to win another quarter of all seats plus one to secure a majority to elect the next president.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit human rights organisation based in Mae Sot (Thailand), Myanmar has nearly 100 political prisoners, plus 471 more awaiting trial. At least five of these are Christians — three Kachin and two Karen people, arrested for alleged links to ethnic rebel groups.

The AAPP issued a call on 22 October in favour of political freedom and for an end to the arrests of members and supporters of opposition parties.

In its request, the NHRC called for the release of roughly 60 students jailed on charges of unlawful assembly, rioting and causing bodily harm to government workers during a peaceful protest on education policy that turned violent earlier this year.

Unlike the 2010 elections, boycotted by the National League for Democracy (NLD), this time, the country appears to be genuinely embarked on a path of reform and change. However, the process of democratisation has suffered a sharp slowdown in recent months.

In the meantime, more than 30 million Myanmese are eligible to vote in the first elections open to all of the country’s political parties, about 90 in all, including the NLD. The latter had won the election in 1990, but the generals had refused to accept the poll result.

The next parliament will elect a new president, a position from which NLD leader and Nobel Peace laurate Aung San Suu Kyi is excluded by virtue of a law tailored made to keep her out.

Given the situation, the USDP remains the front-runner, but analysts and experts have slammed the ruling party for using state funds and institutions to promote its own campaign and buy votes.

Card Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, also spoke about the country’s upcoming election.

Despite the problems, he said he wants to see free, fair and transparent elections in order to restore confidence in the country and give new impetus to the process of democratisation after 50 years of "tears and blood".

As he called “upon rulers and the people to make the forthcoming election a true exercise in democracy,” he urged candidates to favour mutual respect and lasting peace.

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
Yangon: over 2 thousand political prisoners released
01/07/2021 12:09
"We are optimistic," says Paul Bhatti as Rimsha Masih's bail hearing postponed to Friday
Burmese activists want full civil rights, not only freedom, for former political prisoners
Burmese President pardons 56 political prisoners
Burmese government creates commission for the release of political prisoners


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”