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On U Win Tin Blue Shirt Day, Remember Burma’s Many Political Prisoners

By Burma Partnership  •  April 20, 2015

Win Tin poses in one of his prison issued shirts as he shows anoToday, Tuesday 21 April 2015, is the first anniversary of the death of U Win Tin – journalist, democracy activist, founding member of the NLD, and one of Burma’s most high profile and respected political prisoners who spent over 19 years in prison. When he was eventually released in 2008, he refused to hand back his blue prison shirt, and vowed to wear a blue shirt every day until all political prisoners were released, saying: “If there are no political prisoners … I will take off my shirt, but up until now I haven’t seen good indications.” Sadly, despite the many promises made by President Thein Sein to release all political prisoners, U Win Tin continued wearing a blue shirt until the day he died, one year ago.

In fact, the number of political prisoners has increased markedly over the last year. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, as at the end of March, 173 political prisoners remained incarcerated in Burma, with a further 316 activists awaiting trial for conducting political activities. Furthermore, students, garment workers, farmers and journalists have all borne the brunt of the state’s repression. In March alone, 92 people were charged for their civil and political rights activities, with 31 arrested and seven sentenced, mostly as a result of the well-documented student protests in Letpadan and Rangoon in early March.

As a result, 17 civil society organizations have called upon people worldwide to “honour the memory of U Win Tin by raising awareness and taking action for the release of political prisoners still in jail. Please wear a blue shirt or blue clothing, post pictures of yourself wearing blue on social media, and let people know that there are still political prisoners in jail, and that they need our support.

The continued detention of these students, political activists and others is a breach of several of their most sacrosanct human rights. The fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression, not to mention the right to liberty, the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, and the right not to be arbitrarily arrested or detained, are all protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Arbitrary detention, however, is thankfully receiving increased attention at a global level: the UN Human Rights Council has requested that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention develop Basic Principles and Guidelines on remedies and procedures on the right of anyone deprived of their liberty to bring proceedings before a court. These Basic Principles and Guidelines will be approved in the Working Group’s upcoming 72nd session running from 20-29 April in Geneva, and it is hoped that they will assist UN Member States to establish effective mechanisms to ensure judicial oversight over all instances of the arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

And yet such global initiatives mean little without political will on the ground. It is therefore vital that everyone – both in Burma and around the world – creates as much pressure for the Burma Government as possible, in the hope that it will stop abusing human rights, halt the enactment of repressive legislation, and start establishing independent institutions that respect human rights. The best way to do that, the best way of providing immediate and direct assistance to those political prisoners who, like U Win Tin before them, suffer deprivations, cruelties and human rights violations on a daily basis, is to raise awareness of Burma’s political prisoners and their plight.

Therefore, on Tuesday 21 April, please wear a #blueshirt4burma for Burma’s political prisoners and share your photo on social media sites!

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