Burma Partnership, Strengthening Cooperation for a Free Burma
Signup Now!
Join our mailing list for latest news and information about Burma.

28 January – 3 February: Commemoration Calls Attention to Political Prisoners’ Struggle

February 5, 2013

Anti-Labor Protest Commemoration 1 Feb 2013 © The IrrawaddyOn 1 February, a group of former political prisoners held a public forum in Rangoon to commemorate their protest against forced prison labor in Tharawaddy Prison in 1989. The group was arrested and imprisoned after the 1988 popular uprising that was brutally crushed by the military regime. The “Anti-Labor Protest”, as they called it, was an act of resistance to the first time after the 1988 uprising that prison authorities imposed hard labor on political prisoners. It was also the first time after the uprising that prisoners stood up for their rights and the prison authorities’ first use of widespread and brutal torture against them.

On 17 November 1989, 250 political prisoners were transferred from Insein Prison to Tharawaddy Prison in Pegu Division. On 23 November, prison authorities began to force the political prisoners to perform hard labor, but 6 people refused to do so. Authorities separated them into two groups, severely beat each of the prisoners and placed them in solitary confinement. The following day, other political prisoners demanded to see the 6 who had been taken away. When their demand was rejected, they refused to perform hard labor as well. As with the 6 original protesters, they were also sent to solitary confinement and tortured terribly. Three of these protesters died shortly after they were released from prison.

At the commemoration event in Rangoon this week, 4 survivors from the group spoke out about the incident to the 200 people gathered, including both media and the general public. This was the first time that former political prisoners have testified publicly in Burma about the various forms of torture that they endured under the military regime. The four survivors said they were doing this to expose the truth so that future generations would know what happened and to ensure that such brutality would not happen again. The survivors spoke about not wanting to take revenge and that they would try to forgive but could not forget how they suffered in prison.

Sadly, they are not alone. Political prisoners continue to face dire conditions in Burma’s prisons. They are often denied critical medical attention, as well as visits from family members who could bring sorely needed food and medicine. Min Han, a member of 88 Generation Students and the All Burma Students Democratic Front, is the most recent example of a political prisoner being denied medical attention. On 1 February, he passed away due to heart problems that he developed while in prison, just 4 months after being released from prison.

For those who have been released, there is a lack of programs available for former political prisoners to afford redress, help with rehabilitation and reintegration into a changing society. Many former political prisoners have difficulties finding work due to the persistent fear of being associated with political prisoners because of oppressive laws that remain in place, such as the Unlawful Associations Act. The Golden Harp Taxi Service is a success story of former political prisoners getting back on their feet through hard work and the support of friends and family.

In November last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reached an agreement with the government that would allow it to resume prison visits with the aim of improving treatment of prisoners and their detention conditions, including the prison health system. After the ICRC President’s visit to Burma in January, he announced the committee would be starting its visits the following week, however it is not clear whether this has happened yet.

The government has also agreed to establish a mechanism to review prisoner lists and cases of concern, but there are serious concerns about the effectiveness and legitimacy of such a mechanism. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, has called for “the involvement of relevant stakeholders, including political and civil society organisations and released prisoners themselves” in the review mechanism.

There remain many steps for Thein Sein’s government to take to rectify the situation of political prisoners: acknowledging the past treatment of political prisoners such as those involved in the Anti-Labor Protest, establishing an inclusive and effective review mechanism, releasing all remaining political prisoners, and allowing for redress, rehabilitation and reintegration. In order to ensure that human rights are respected in the future, the government must also grant the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights a full mandate for the protection and promotion of human rights that would include visits to detention centers.

News Highlights

Government abolishes Order 2/88 banning public gatherings of five or more people

Ministry of Defense accuses international organizations of “fabricating news” about the government and the Burma Army’s activities in Kachin State

Inside Burma

NLD donates nearly US$15,000 to migrant schools on the Thai-Burma border

Government shelling of Mayan village in Mogaung township allegedly kills two Kachin civilians and injures three others and two firms owned by Tay Zaw donate US$82,000 to the Burma Army for its offensive against the Kachin Independence Army

The Kachin Independence Organization and the government are set to hold peace talks in China starting today

Border Guard Force attacks the Karen National Liberation Army near Mae La Hta village, Karen State, injuring one soldier and one civilian, despite ceasefire

Officials in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State, forbid Muslims from praying in mosques and authorities confiscate paddy fields from farmers

Lawyers’ investigation finds that police used white phosphorus to disperse Letpadaung protesters and the Wan Bao Company says it will resort to legal action if the Letpadaung copper mine project is suspended

Burma ranks 151 out of 179 countries surveyed by Reporters Sans Frontières in its 2013 Press Freedom Index while the Mining Ministry drops defamation case against The Voice Weekly

Authorities apprehend and deport a French citizen as he walked alongside peace marchers and charge 5 of the peace marchers with breaching the peaceful protest law

The Paris Club, an informal grouping of creditor nations, agrees to relieve Burma of half the arrears it owes

Regional

Thailand pushes 140 Rohingyas back to sea and says it will turn away any more who try to land on its shores

Former ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan says ASEAN must address the Rohingya issue on humanitarian grounds

China denies providing arms to the United Wa State Army

International

The Foreign Affairs Ministry protests against the US State Department’s continuing use of the name “Burma” and rejects its statement about the Burma Army’s continuing offensive in Kachin State

The UK and Australia announce that they will jointly spend about US$21 million to help more than 200,000 children complete primary education by 2015

Opinion

Land-Grabbing Endures in New Burma
By Jason Motlagh
The Washington Post

International Praise for “Reformed” Burma is Premature and Dangerous
By Zoya Phan
The Guardian

Why is Suu Kyi Absent from Asean?
By Myint Thin
The Irrawaddy

Latest from the Blog

Aid and Development Plans Undermined by Sustained Military Offensive
By Burma Partnership

Actions

TAKE ACTION! Sign the petition calling on the Burma government to stand down the air strikes and stop the violence in ethnic Kachin state

TAKE ACTION! Write a letter to Burma authorities to demand the release of Dr. Tun Aung and ensure specialist medical treatment without delay

More than 2,000 activists and local residents gather near the Letpadaung copper mine to demand that authorities take action against those responsible for the violent crackdown on protests two months ago

Statements and Press Releases

Statement from the Women’s Workshop on Peace-Building and Conflict Transformation
By 31 ethnic women’s organizations

Myanmar Must End Its Policy of Segregation in Rakhine State: ASEAN’s Inability to Act Points to Institutional Failures
By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus

CSW And CHRO Welcome MEP’s Letter to EU Foreign Policy Chief on Human RIghts Violations in Burma
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Chin Human Rights Organization

Karen in Europe Calls on the EU to Take Stronger Actions on the Attacks in Kachin State
By European Karen Network

Burma: Rights Abuses Endanger Reform
By Human Rights Watch

Campaigners Criticise “Premature” Burma Debt Cancellation
By Jubilee Debt Campaign UK

U Thein Sein Government Violated the Laws Associated with KIA
By Legal Aid Network

Reports

World Report 2013: Burma
By Human Rights Watch

This post is in: Weekly Highlights