Press Release from the US Campaign for Burma
(Washington, DC, December 19, 2013) – Today, the U.S. Campaign for Burma (USCB), along with 41 other human rights organizations, expressed concern that the Burmese government is continuing to arrest political prisoners/prisoners of conscience at alarmingly high rates. These arrests blatantly discredit the Burmese government’s claim that all political prisoners will be released by the end of December 2013.
The Burmese government is applying a catch – release – catch again policy with notable political prisoners who have been re-arrested under new, trumped-up charges. Prominent activist Naw Ohn Hla was re-arrested on December 10, 2013 within a month of being released. Activists Htin Kyaw and Aye Thein, granted amnesty on December 11, 2013, were re-arrested within hours of being released. The government’s treatment of political prisoners has spurred 3 farmers’ rights activists to launch a hunger strike on December 13, 2013, protesting their six month long detention without a proper trial and verdict.
“The U.S. Government must pressure the Government of Burma to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and repeal or revise draconian legal provisions that are used to imprison people who are exercising their rights to free speech and assembly,” said Rachel Wagley, Campaigns Director of U.S. Campaign for Burma. “President Thein Sein’s pledge to release Burma’s political prisoners will not be fulfilled until all politically arrested ethnic minorities, farmers, and other activists are freed unconditionally.”
Over the past year, the Burmese government has specifically targeted individuals who are speaking out against the human rights abuses resulting from the government’s mega-development projects and other activities.
The Burmese government has also arrested hundreds of ethnic minorities for political reasons. These include the many Kachin currently detained under the colonial-era 1908 Unlawful Associations Act, and many of the 900-1,000+ Rohingya who were unlawfully detained following the June 2012 violence. At least 68 of these Rohingya died in custody before December 2012. The Burmese government has charged and convicted hundreds of these Rohingya while denying them due process rights, legal representation, and trial opportunities. The government has also detained hundreds more Rohingya under deliberately discriminatory charges, such as unlawful marriage and unauthorized immigration.
“The Burmese government is responsible for honoring the due process rights of all prisoners, particularly the many ethnic detainees who are facing torture and even death in Burma’s jails,” Wagley continued. “The Burmese government must vacate all convictions for released individuals to restore to them their dignity and to ensure that they do not face discriminatory hurdles in the future.”
The U.S. Government should insist that all political prisoners are released; offer assistance to the Burmese government to revise laws restricting freedoms of assembly and expression; and withhold additional trade and investment benefits until Burma’s laws have been amended to provide adequate protections to Burma’s people. “The U.S. Government lifted major diplomatic and economic sanctions because of the release of hundreds of political prisoners; they must not turn a blind eye to the arrest of hundreds more,” said Rachel Wagley, USCB’s Campaigns Director.
The joint letter to President Obama was submitted on behalf of Actions Birmanie (Belgium), Altsean-Burma, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Association Suisse-Birmanie, Austrian Burma Center, Burma Action Ireland, Burma Campaign Australia, Burma Campaign UK, Burma Centre Delhi, Burma Partnership, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Fortify Rights, Forum for Democracy in Burma, Free Burma Campaign (South Africa), Freedom House, Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, Info Birmanie, Institute for Asian Democracy, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Labor Rights Forum, Investors Against Genocide, Journalists’ Forum Assam (India), Kachin Legal Aid Network Group, Karen Environmental and Social Action Network, Karen Women Empowerment Group, Karen Women’s Organization, Karenni Civil Societies Network, Mae Tao Clinic, Norwegian Burma Committee, Odhikar (Bangladesh), People’s Forum on Burma (Japan), Physicians for Human Rights, Society for Threatened Peoples (Germany), Swedish Burma Committee, Tavoyan Women’s Union, Than Lwin Citizen Empowerment Program, Triangle Women Support Group, United to End Genocide, US Campaign for Burma, Women Initiatives Network for Peace (WIN~Peace), and Women Peace Network Arakan.