Release all remaining political prisoners now and respect civil and political rights

Press release

The Burmese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all remaining political prisoners and fully respect the civil and political rights of the Burmese people, including former political prisoners, said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization, the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma). In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Norway in June, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also appealed for the earliest, unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners.

Between May 2011 and July 2012, about 660 political prisoners have been released in five amnesties. The latest amnesty took place on 3 July when 25 of the 80 detainees released were political prisoners, including student activists and members of ethnic opposition groups. On 4 July, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma said that there were still at least 441 political prisoners in the country. [1]

Following the January 2012 amnesty, FIDH and Altsean-Burma received reports of harassment of released prisoners and restrictions on their freedom of movement. [2] That amnesty also came with a draconian condition under Section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which states that released prisoners can be re-arrested and ordered to serve the remainder of their original sentence for any violation of existing laws.

The 3 July amnesty was immediately overshadowed by the detention of more than 20 student activists in Rangoon and several other locations across the country on 6 July, some of whom were former detainees released in the January 2012 amnesty. The crackdown took place a day before planned commemorations of the 50th anniversary of a brutal military crackdown on students in 1962 in Rangoon. There were warnings and intimidation by the authorities in the days before the anniversary. A police commander in Mandalay Division summoned members of the All Burma Federation of Students’ Union (ABFSU) and reportedly warned them not to “dig up the past” and that holding the planned commemoration would be against the law.

Despite the arrests, on 7 July the 88 Generation Students group held a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the crackdown at their office in Rangoon. Police took photograph and checked the identifications of those attending the ceremony, although they allowed the event to proceed. The detained activists were all released on 7 July.

The international community should take stronger measures to press for the unconditional release of the remaining political prisoners, the repeal of repressive laws under which they were convicted, and the necessary institutional reforms that would provide for the full protection of civil and political rights of everyone without discrimination ,” urged Debbie Stothard, FIDH’s Deputy Secretary-General and the Coordinator of Altsean-Burma.

On 10 July, authorities in Pegu refused to grant permission to members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to hold a public commemoration on Martyrs’ Day on 19 July. Subsequent requests to hold it at different locations were also denied. The authorities reportedly told the NLD that permission was not granted because laying wreathes in the town’s centre would be “a bad omen.”

The continued detention of those sentenced on politically motivated charges and the ongoing arbitrary restrictions on the constitutional right to assemble peacefully, as well as harassment against those exercising this right, underscore the government’s long-standing failure to comply with international human rights standards, which betrays its supposed reformist intention ,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president.

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