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President Thein Sein Fails to Keep His Promise to Release All Political Prisoners by Year-End

By International Federation for Human Rights and Altsean-Burma  •  January 10, 2014

The international community should hold the Burmese government accountable for failing to fulfill its promise to release all political prisoners by December 31, 2013, said FIDH and its member organization the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma) today.

On July 15, 2013, President Thein Sein pledged to release all political prisoners “by the end of the year.” Following his announcement, Thein Sein released about 240 dissidents in five separate amnesties. However, approximately 40 political prisoners remained behind bars at the start of 2014.

“ The international community must stop being seduced by the Burmese government’s empty promises. Almost three years after Thein Sein became President, dozens of political prisoners remain behind bars. Those who are released face the constant risk of being re-arrested under Burma’s oppressive laws ,” said ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard. “ Instead of making sweetheart deals in favor of trade and investment, the international community must push for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and for genuine legislative reform in Burma ,” Ms. Stothard urged.

Among the political prisoners who remain incarcerated are prominent human rights defenders, ethnic minority civilians, and INGO Burmese relief workers. Prominent Kachin land rights activist Ms. Bawk Ja, who was arrested on July 19, 2013, on charges of negligent homicide in a politically motivated case, remains detained in Myitkyina, Kachin State. Rohingya human rights defenders Mr. Tun Aung and Mr. Kyaw Hla Aung, were arrested for their activities in support of Rohingya in June 2012 and July 2013, respectively. Both remain incarcerated in Sittwe prison, Arakan State. Activist Aye Thein, who was freed in a presidential amnesty on December 11, 2013, was re-arrested on the same day. He faces sedition charges in connection with a protest against the relocation of a market in Mandalay in August 2012. He remains imprisoned in Mandalay. Four Kachin IDPs, Messrs. Brang Yung, Lahpai Gam, Zaw Bauk, and La Ring, who were arrested in June 2012 on false charges of having ties to the ethnic armed group Kachin Independence Army (KIA), remain imprisoned in Myitkyina jail, Kachin State. A court in Myitkyina sentenced the four to two years in prison each under the Unlawful Association Act on December 15, 2013. Three INGO workers, who were arrested in connection with the unrest in Arakan State in June-July 2012, remain detained in Buthidaung prison, Arakan State.

“ President Thein Sein could have freed all political prisoners a long time ago. Instead, he chose to release thousands of common criminals ,” Ms. Stothard said. “ On January 2, 2014, over 13,000 common criminals were released as a result of Thein Sein’s Independence Day pardon. This is ten times the number of political prisoners released in the last three years ,” she added.

“ Parliament must make the repeal of Burma’s draconian laws on freedom of expression and association its number one priority and the government must support such legislative reform ,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

Since first convening in January 2011, Burma’s Parliament has repealed only one law, Law 5/96, [1] out of the 11 oppressive laws that the UN identified as not in line with international standards.

Press contacts:
Audrey Couprie (Paris): +33143551412
Andrea Giorgetta (Bangkok): +66886117722

[1] Law 5/96 was frequently used by the military junta to jail critics of the National Convention, the junta-sponsored constitution-drafting process. However, the law became void even before being repealed by Parliament in January 2013 because of the conclusion of the National Convention in September 2007 and the adoption of the constitution in May 2008.

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