What is AAPP?
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) is a human rights organization based in Mae Sot, Thailand that works for the release of all political prisoners and for the improvement of prison conditions inside Burma. Set up in 2000, AAPP is entirely run by former political prisoners. It carries out a range of activities on behalf of Burma’s political prisoners. These activities include: providing basic necessities, such as food and medicine, to current political prisoners and their families; documenting and reporting on human rights abuses carried out by the regime against political prisoners and pro-democracy activists; and securing support from international governments and organizations to assist in the campaign to free all political prisoners. AAPP is widely recognized as a reliable and credible source of information on political prisoner issues in Burma, by the United Nations, governments, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and respected media outlets around the world.
Since the peaceful, nationwide uprisings of 1988 and the consequent brutal crackdown on the demonstrations, the Burmese regime has sought to stifle any opposition within the country. Accordingly, freedom of expression is non-existent. Many activists who participated in the 1988 demonstrations were imprisoned and some of those remain in prison today. Others endured long, harsh sentences while the regime has continuously arrested and incarcerated political activists to this day. Regardless of the regime’s guise, from the one-party state under the Burmese Socialist Party Programme (BSPP), the military dictatorship of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) (later the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)) or the military backed government of Thein Sein, any kind of opposition groups are simply not tolerated by the regime. Due to this intolerance, journalists, political activists, ethnic nationalists, and human rights defenders are imprisoned due to their political beliefs. Not only are they given particularly long sentences but their treatment while being detained is deplorable. They are often tortured during interrogation to eke out false confessions and are imprisoned in remote locations, far away from their families, rendering it extremely difficult for visits. After release they are often denied opportunities to continue their previous studies or professions and can be detained again at the regime’s will.
The Saffron Revolution in 2007, another uprising that saw hundreds of thousands of people protesting against the regime, saw a huge increase in the numbers of political prisoners. Despite the new democratic clothes of the Thein Sein government, it is still dominated, both institutionally, and in terms of personnel, by the military that has brutally repressed democratic opposition since 1988.
In 2011, the nominally civilian Thein Sein administration initiated a series of political prisoner releases. One release that took place on 13 January 2012 is seen as a watershed moment in Burma’s democratic aspirations. Hundreds of political prisoners were released in one fell swoop, including a high proportion of prominent activists such as 88 Generation leaders Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, journalists Zaw Htet Htwe and Hla Hla Win, monk leader U Gambira, and Shan ethnic leader Khun Htun Oo. While the releases of political prisoners are celebrated, they continue to be released into an environment that represses basic civil and political liberties where the threat of re-arrest is real. Political prisoners are often released under section 401 of Burma’s Code of Criminal Procedures. This section essentially allows authorities wide and vague powers to re-arrest those released without warrant. For an explanation of section 401 please refer to the following AAPP document: EXPLANATION ABOUT ARTICLE 401
“Nothing is more revealing about the situation of human rights in a country than the existence of political prisoners. They embody the denial of the most basic freedoms essential to human kind, such as freedom of opinion and assembly.”
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro
Former United Nations Special Rapporteur
on the situation of Human Rights in Burma
As long there exists political prisoners in Burma, Burma will not be free. They represent the struggle for democracy, human rights, equality and freedom for the people of Burma. An integral component of national reconciliation, therefore, is the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.
What is a Political Prisoner?
The definition of a political prisoner is a contentious one and there has never been an internationally recognized definition. For AAPP, however, there is clarity. Regardless of the law they are sentenced under, if the motivation for an individual’s imprisonment is political, they are a political prisoner. This motivation can be on the part of the regime or the individual. Thus, those imprisoned because of their role in the armed struggle against the regime are classed as political prisoners as their motivation is political. The current military backed government of Thein Sein denies the existence of political prisoners, stating that there are only lawbreakers behind bars. It is often the case that political prisoners are in jail under trumped up, false charges so while the law they have supposedly broken deems them a criminal, the reality behind the motivation of their arrest is political.
To read AAPP’s official definition and criteria for a political prisoner, please click on the below link: CRITERIA FOR AAPP’S DEFINITION OF A POLITICAL PRISONER
History and Aims of AAPP
AAPP was founded on the 23rd of March 2000, the eleventh anniversary of the arrest of Min Ko Naing, a student leader and prominent figure during the 1988 uprising who has spent nineteen of the last twenty two years in prison. The aims of AAPP are fivefold:
• To report on the number of political prisoners held in Burma, and on human rights violations carried out against them in various detention centers, prisons and labor camps and to advocate for prison reforms to lessen the suffering endured by political prisoners.
• To secure the support of governments and international organizations to pressure the Burmese military backed government to stop the persecution, arrest and detention of all political prisoners, and to release them all.
• To provide political prisoners with necessities, such as food and medicine.
• To protect political prisoners from harassment and intimidation by the military backed government once released from prison, including when they are looking for employment, continuing their studies, associating with friends and colleagues, and to protect them from persecution if they resume their political activities.
• To assist in the reconstruction of former political prisoners’ lives, including both their mental and physical well-being.
Domestically – AAPP provides assistance for families of political prisoners to visit their loved ones and also necessities such as food and medicine. AAPP also collects information from inside Burma regarding arrests, releases, prison conditions, status and well being of political prisoners. Collecting this information is a difficult process due to the lack of transparency of the regime. No public records of prisoners are kept and the names of those freed under major releases are not announced. Thus, AAPP relies on information from family members and other inside sources. Information collecting, therefore, can be a slow and difficult process. The information AAPP collects is a mix of inside information, interviews and testimonies from former political prisoners, and international and exiled media outlets.
Internationally – AAPP is involved in various activities outside Burma to achieve its goals. These include international lobbying and advocacy through meetings and presentations with governments and international organizations such as the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. This is to both inform and raise awareness of the current situation in order to secure support. AAPP also produces accurate and up to date information for the wider media and public through press releases, reports, interviews, opinion editorials and information releases. A small museum can also be found at our office headquarters, paying tribute to those who died while behind bars.