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Activists call for release of human rights defenders

Originally appeared in Myanmar Times

August 31, 2015

By Zaw Zaw Htwe

Two activist groups are calling on the government to end its oppression of human rights defenders amid an uptick in recent crackdowns.

At a workshop in Bahan township on August 27, activists from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and the Burma Partnership said there has been a sharp rise in the human rights defenders met with arrests and oppression.

Despite President U Thein Sein’s promise to release all political prisoners by 2013, the number of activists locked up is again on the rise ahead of the elections. Police wielding batons, plain-clothed militias and the use of colonial-era laws to defend these measures has many questioning the government’s commitment to democratic reform.

“Myanmar is transitioning to democracy, but Myanmar is also taking a step backward,” said Daw Khin Ohnmar, a coordinator from the Burma Partnership. “Recently, the government has targeted more [human rights defenders] than they have during the last five years.”

Activists attending the workshop spoke openly about the difficulties they face while campaigning, and cited oppressive, antiquated laws used against them. One participant said women human rights defenders also face sexual threats and slander.

“[The authorities] are using the laws, with various ambitions, to oppress [human rights defenders]. There is no room for law and order,” said Robert San Aung, an activist lawyer. “We cannot charge police who break the law because they are avoiding it through legal reasoning. They are using the laws erroneously.”

One example is the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Tour Law – also known as section 18 of the penal code – which is often abused by the Myanmar Police Force to oppress activists.

“The police are using this law as a weapon to arrest and charge [human rights defenders], breaking the rules of international human rights standards,” said AAPP secretary U Bo Kyi.

According to the most recent AAPP report, published August 17, there are currently 112 political prisoners in Myanmar and 458 awaiting trial. Of the political prisoners, 24 are serving time for violating section 18. Of those awaiting trial, 208 were charged with at least one count of violating section 18.

The AAPP and Burma Partnership have publicly called for the release of four such prisoners, students who were recently jailed for spray-painting “We don’t want the National Education Law” and “Release students in Tharyarwaddy prison immediately” on the walls of Yadanarpon University. The student activists – Naing Ye Wai, Aung San Oo, Jit Tu and Nyan Lin Htet – have been placed in solitary confinement and are currently on a hunger strike.

“If the government really wants to hold transparent November elections, they first need to release all political prisoners and dismiss all prosecutions upon activists,” Daw Khin Ohnmar said.

View the original post here: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/16217-activists-call-for-release-of-human-rights-defenders.html

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