On the eve of Burma’s election, Aung San Suu Kyi has 229 political prisoners in jail.
The number of activists either in jail or awaiting trial is almost exactly the same as before the 2015 election when the military still ruled the country.
A total of 584 political activists are currently either in jail or awaiting trial. When Burma went to the polls in 2015, the military-backed government of President Thein Sein had a total of 598 political activists in jail or awaiting trial. Aung San Suu Kyi has just 14 fewer political activists in jail or awaiting trial.
These figures are based on information from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma. They do not include more than 100,000 Rohingya which Aung San Suu Kyi keeps imprisoned in internment camps in Rakhine State.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government has complete control over whether or not political activists face trial and whether political prisoners remain in jail. These are areas the military handed over to the civilian government under the 2008 Constitution.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has the power to free all political prisoners.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has the power to drop charges against political activists.
Aung San Suu Kyi has the parliamentary majority to repeal repressive laws used to jail political prisoners.
When the National League for Democracy came to power in 2016, it stated that releasing political prisoners was a top priority. Aung San Suu Kyi herself famously stated that one political prisoner was one too many. However, when the release of political prisoners did go ahead, only around 80 were released, leaving many still in jail. Outstanding charges against some activists were dropped, but not against all.
Since then, Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has become increasingly intolerant of criticism and the number of political prisoners has steadily grown, despite some releases during Burmese New Year, most years. Aung San Suu Kyi has not only kept almost all repressive laws in place, her government has been willing to use them and to allow the military to use them to silence, intimidate and jail critics.
It is not the case, as some apologists have tried to argue, that Aung San Suu Kyi is constrained or unable to release political prisoners. That fact that she has done so in the past is evidence of this.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s political prisoners must be freed,” said Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “It is a scandal that Aung San Suu Kyi is keeping political prisoners in jail when she has the power to free them. There was a time when the British government, EU and USA put a lot of pressure on the military to free political prisoners. As with other human rights violations, it seems that as long as it is Aung San Suu Kyi keeping political prisoners in jail, rather than the military, the international community will stay silent.”
Later this month Burma Campaign UK will be launching a new campaign, ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’s Political Prisoners Must Be Freed’. The campaign will seek to persuade the British government and other governments to end their silence over Aung San Suu Kyi keeping political prisoners in jail.