Burma Campaign UK today expressed disappointment at the apparent decision by Aung San Suu Kyi to keep around 90 political prisoners in jail.
The reported release of 36 political prisoners today is wonderful news for those political prisoners and their families, but also represents a decision not to free around 90 other political prisoners currently in jail. Most of those kept in jail are being held awaiting trial so have not even been convicted. This includes Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists currently on trial.
Most worryingly, it also appears to be a return to the military era approach of using the selective release of political prisoners on key dates for public relations purposes, rather than the NLD-led government making serious attempts to end once and for all the decades’ long problem of political prisoners in Burma.
Instead of repealing repressive laws used to jail political prisoners, use of repressive laws to silence dissent has increased since the NLD came to power. State media has carried propaganda features defending and promoting the usefulness of repressive laws, and new repressive laws have been proposed.
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, as de facto leader of the NLD-led government, has the power to order the release of all political prisoners and end prosecutions of political activists. Her majority in Parliament gives her the power to repeal all repressive laws.
Political prisoners whose cases Burma Campaign UK has been campaigning for were among those released today.
Dumdaw Nawng Latt and Langjaw Gam Seng are two ethnic Kachin pastors jailed after helping reporters cover a military offensive by the Burmese army. They should be released today.
Lahpai Gam is an ethnic Kachin farmer who was arrested, tortured and jailed after being falsely accused of being involved with armed Kachin organisation. In 2013 the United Nations ruled that his detention was illegal under international law, but Aung San Suu Kyi continued to keep him in jail for the past two years despite having the power to release him. He is among those due to be released today.
“There is joy for some families today but many more families will be feeling sadness that Aung San Suu Kyi has decided to keep their loved one in jail,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “With the use and scope of repressive laws being increased rather than repealed, it seems that under the NLD government there is no end in sight to the scourge of political prisoners in Burma’s jails. Aside from occasional high profile cases, the international community is now mostly silent about the continued detention of political prisoners. This must change. The NLD-led government needs to face international pressure over the detention of political prisoners just as the previous military dictatorship did.”
On Saturday 21st April people around the world will be supporting Blue Shirt Day for political prisoners in Burma. Saturday 21st April is the fourth anniversary of the death of U Win Tin, a former political prisoner who famously continued to wear his blue prison shirt after his release in support of those political prisoners still in Burma’s jails. People are being asked to wear blue and post pictures on social media to raise awareness of political prisoners still in Burma’s jails.