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British Government Abandons British Political Prisoner in Burmese Jail

By Burma Campaign UK  •  October 5, 2015

Burma Campaign UK today accused Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire MP of failing in one of his most fundamental duties, the support and protection of British citizens overseas. Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for Burma, has abandoned Philip Blackwood, a British political prisoner serving hard labour in Burma’s notorious Insein Jail.

Philip Blackwood, who has joint British and New Zealand citizenship, and two Burmese colleagues, Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin, were given two and a half years hard labour in March 2015 for ‘insulting Buddhism’. A picture of Buddha wearing headphones had been uploaded on the Facebook page of the bar they worked in. Buddhist nationalists protested and the Burmese government jumped on the case to try to win support from nationalists.

The trial and convictions were clearly politically motivated. The military-backed Burmese government cannot compete with the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, so it is trying to play the Buddhist nationalist card to win public support. The convictions are about elections due in November, not justice or insults to religion.

The law also requires that there was an intent to cause insult, which there was not. Any offence caused was unintentional, and they have apologised.

There was a time when the British government campaigned around the world to build international support for freeing political prisoners in Burma, even raising the issue at the United Nations Security Council.

But when Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire visited Burma a few weeks ago, and met with Burmese government officials, he didn’t even call for the release of Philip Blackwood or the other two political prisoners in this case.

The Foreign Office is trying to treat this as a lower level consular case, rather than a political case where Ministers must intervene. They are also trying to hide behind Philip’s dual nationality, saying consular arrangements have to be made with New Zealand. This is a red herring, as this should not be treated as simply a consular case. There is no justice or rule of law in Burma.

“We have seen how the British government has abandoned Burmese political prisoners as it prioritises securing trade deals with Burma’s military backed government, but now it is even abandoning its own citizens,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Hugo Swire seems prepared to let an innocent British citizen and his colleagues rot in a Burmese jail rather than risk upsetting his new friends in the Burmese regime. It is time for a fundamental review of British policy on Burma, and a return to prioritising human rights.”

Burma Campaign UK is asking supporters and members of the public to email Hugo Swire asking him to take action to secure the release of Philip Blackwood and all political prisoners in Burma. The action is online here: https://action.burmacampaign.org.uk/british-political-prisoner-burmese-jail

For more information contact: Mark Farmaner on +44 (0) 7941239640

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This post is in: Press Release

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