Repression of Political Dissidents Must End Now

Press release

International community should react immediately

FIDH expresses its deepest concern with the recent surge in prison sentences against political dissidents in Burma. Burmese courts handed out prison sentences for at least 60 political prisoners detained for their role in the "Saffron Revolution". It is critical that the international community – including the UN Security Council and ASEAN – reacts without delay in a manner proportional to the alarming recent developments in the country, and according to its responsibility and obligation to protect the population of Burma from further massive violations.

According to the information received, on November 11 2008, courts in Burma’s Yangon Insein prison sentenced over 20 of these prisoners to 65 years in prison, in hearings which took place behind closed doors. 14 of these prisoners were members of the "88 Student Group", and each was convicted of four counts of violation of section 33 of the "Electronic Transactions Law". All members of the 88 group received the maximum sentence of 15 years on each count, as well as five years for "participation in an organization that is not permitted" under section five of the "Law relating to Forming of Organizations."

Less than three weeks earlier, on October 23 2008, the North Okkalapa Township Court in Burma sentenced seven monks and seven nuns, protesters in the Saffron Revolution to four years in prison with hard labor, for «outraging religious feelings », under sections 295 and 295 (A) of the Penal Code. Among them is Daw Ponnami, 80 years old and partially paralyzed. One day later, on October 24, a court held in the Oo-Bo Prison Compound also delivered prison sentences for six members of the National Democracy League (NDL) from the party’s Mandalay branch, ranging from two to thirteen years in prison, after finding them guilty of « inciting offense against public tranquility », under 153 and 505 (B) of the Penal Code. FIDH notes with concern that these NLD members had been in jail for nearly a year before sentencing.

As these penalties continue to be handed out to prisoners of conscience, authorities have begun transferring prisoners to remote facilities far from the prisoner’s hometowns, and in the round of sentencing last week, some were sent as far as 1,440 km away from Rangoon.

FIDH strongly denounces this increasing trend of unfounded and arbitrary arrests and harsh sentencing. The Burmese authorities have been claiming that the country is on its way for a road map to democracy using as evidence of such commitment the release of more than 9,000 prisoners on September 23rd, 2008. In reality, only ten political prisoners were released that day, and by the end of September alone, there were over 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, already a 78% increase from the previous year. Furthermore, we have reasons to believe that this dramatic increase of political prisoners will continue. Among many other prisoners of conscience, another 14 members of the « 88 Student Group » are in detention and scheduled to be sentenced soon.

FIDH condemns the arrests and harsh sentencing of Burmese citizens for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. FIDH also notes that these convictions follow blatantly unfair trials, totally incompatible with due process. Lawyers have been victims of judicial harassment: the lawyer Khin Maung Shein was sentenced on November 7th after having resigned when the court did not allow him to ask questions to his clients. At the end of October, Nyi Nyi Htwe, and Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, lawyers for 11 youth NLD members were themselves sentenced to six months in prison for disrespecting the court.

Despite the reactions of the international community, including the UN Secretary General, Burmese military regime has launched a campaign of extermination of all dissent voices. FIDH urges the authorities of Burma to immediately release all political prisoners, and put an end to the climate of harsh repression. In addition, FIDH calls on ASEAN and the United Nations to make the matter a top priority, and to use all means at its disposal to ensure these blatant and increasing human rights violations end.

Finally, FIDH joins voices calling for an urgent meeting at the UN Security Council on the situation in Burma in the next days. Everything, today, justifies that the matter be immediately addressed in order to find a solution to what appears to many Burmese as a dead-end.

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