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British Government Backs Burma Political Prisoner Review Mechanism

By Burma Campaign UK  •  April 25, 2014

Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire MP has backed ‘a comprehensive and transparent mechanism’ to review cases of political prisoners in Burma.  He voiced his support in a letter responding to letters from the public about political prisoners in Burma.

Burma Campaign UK has been asking supporters to write to the British government, calling on British Ministers to pressure the Burmese government to establish a permanent independent review mechanism to assess cases where people could be in prison because of their political activities. Hugo Swire also backed another key demand of campaigners, agreeing that ‘repealing…repressive laws will be vital if Burma is to continue on its path to greater democracy.’

Burma Campaign UK has been running a campaign – No Political Prisoner Left Behind – highlighting the fact that political prisoners remain in jail, and that repressive laws used to jail them remain in place. The demand for an independent review mechanism which can review cases and ensure political prisoners are freed is a key demand of the campaign.

Following international pressure, President Thein Sein did establish a committee to review cases of political prisoners, but the committee was dominated by the government, and had no powers to properly investigate cases and order the release of prisoners. Instead members of the committee had to use their own resources to investigate cases, and ask the President to release political prisoners. Although the President has released hundreds of political prisoners, they have only been released conditionally, and he has refused to release around 30 political prisoners identified by the committee.

“A new, independent committee, with comprehensive powers to investigate cases and order the release of political prisoners, needs to be established,” said Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “We are pleased that the British government is supporting a comprehensive review mechanism, but they need to go further and apply real pressure to ensure it is established.”

Examples of the failure of the British government’s current soft engagement policy to influence President Thein Sein are evident in the statement released by Hugo Swire. He highlights how he has raised the cases of individual political prisoners, but they are still in jail. He says he has asked for the repeal of repressive laws, but they remain in place. Thein Sein did not keep the promise he made when visiting the UK, that he would release all political prisoners by the end of 2013.

“Political leaders in Burma, the international community, and human rights activists all need to work together to ensure a proper mechanism is established which can address the issue of political prisoners once and for all”, said Wai Hnin Pwint Thon. “Burma can never be free and democratic if we have political prisoners still in jail.”

Media Contact:
Wai Hnin Pwint Thon
Twitter: @MissWHPT @burmacampaignuk

Please download the statement by members of the European Burma Network calling for a permanent independent review mechanism here

Please download the statement by British Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire MP here

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