Burma Campaign UK today launches a new campaign aimed at increasing pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi to free all political prisoners and repeal the repressive laws used to jail them.
Burma Campaign UK spent many years campaigning for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. She was one of the most famous political prisoners in the world. Now Aung San Suu Kyi has gone from jailed to jailor, keeping more than 200 political prisoners in jail.
The new campaign is titled ‘Aung San Suu Kyi Must Free All Political Prisoners Now’.
The issue of political prisoners in Burma has largely fallen off the domestic agenda in Burma, and off the international agenda. The new campaign will raise international awareness that there are still political prisoners in Burma, and that the civilian government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has the power to release them, but chooses not to.
“When it comes to freeing political prisoners, and repealing repressive laws, the decision lies with Aung San Suu Kyi, not the military,” said Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “The civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has now had almost a full term in office but more than 200 political prisoners are in jail and almost all repressive laws remain in place.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) pledged to make the release of political prisoners its top priority when it came to power, but while it did release some political prisoners, it kept others in jail, and many more have been in and out of jail on sentences of around two years or under.
“The revolving door of political prisoners in and out of jail is still spinning under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government,” said Wai Hnin Pwint Thon. “Activists rarely get the decades long sentences which happened under military rule, so they don’t make international headlines, but the problem of political prisoners remains and it must be addressed.”
Within Burma, supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi refuse to accept any criticism of her and either deny there are political prisoners or try to blame the military. The police (which receive training and equipment from the European Union) are under military control and are responsible for arrests of political activists. However, the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi has the power to halt prosecutions and the power to free political prisoners. The huge majority the NLD has in Parliament means that it can easily repeal repressive laws and can pass laws which protect freedom of speech and other human rights.
Internationally, pressure for the release of political prisoners traditionally mainly came from western countries. Today western countries avoid even using the term political prisoners, let alone applying any pressure for their release. The only exception has been for two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed for investigating a massacre at a Rohingya village. Many western governments have less warm relationships with Aung San Suu Kyi because of her sensitivity to criticism over the Rohingya. This is despite western governments continuing to provide aid, expertise and political support to and through her government. Western governments wanting to rebuild relationships with Aung San Suu Kyi appear reluctant to criticise her government on any human rights issues, including her detention of political prisoners.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is being given a free pass to leave critics of her government and the military in jail,” said Wai Hnin Pwint Thon. “The regular jailing of critics and peaceful protestors has a chilling effect on freedom of expression and free media. Unless there is more attention and more pressure on the issue of political prisoners, we are likely to see the problem get worse.”
Burma Campaign UK is asking supporters to write to Aung San Suu Kyi calling on her to free all political prisoners, repeal repressive laws, and bring in new laws protecting human rights. The action is available here.
Burma Campaign UK is also asking supporters to add a political prisoner to their Christmas card list. Information is available here.
There will be a rolling series of campaign actions throughout 2021.