Media Statement – for immediate release
1 December 2008
At least 215 Burmese political activists have been sentenced in the month of November, according to a report released today by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). The first trial of activists arrested in connection with last year’s uprising in August and September began on 8 October 2007. Since then at least 384 activists have been sentenced, over half of them in the past month, confirming recent reports that the regime plans to expedite the trials of political prisoners.
The sentences recently handed down ranging from 4 months on charges of ‘contempt of court’ for National League for Democracy (NLD) lawyers U Khin Maung Shein and U Aung Thein, to life imprisonment plus 8 years for Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network founding member U Myint Aye on explosives charges. Former political prisoner and well-known comedian Zarganar, arrested in connection with his efforts to co-ordinate voluntary relief efforts after May’s Cyclone Nargis, received sentences totaling 59 years. All Burma Monks’ Alliance leader U Gambira, who played a leading role in last year’s Saffron Revolution, was given sentences totaling 68 years. Twenty-three members of the 88 Generation Students Group, who led the protests against fuel price hikes in August last year, were handed sentences of at least 65 years each.
“These recent sentences are some of the harshest punishments handed out by the regime in over a decade. The regime has condemned the activists it fears the most to a lifetime in prison,” said Bo Kyi, Joint-Secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). “The UN Security Council, other UN bodies, ASEAN, and the wider international community should make no mistake: the ruling State Peace and Development Council has no intention of easing its oppression of political opponents, or of following a roadmap for democracy; in fact it is cracking down harder than ever.”
On 15 November, the Burmese authorities began to systematically transfer political prisoners to prisons all around the country, far from their families. At least 136 political prisoners have been transferred, including the 88 Generation Student Group’s leaders. Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Min Zeya have been transferred to Kengtung, Mai Sat and Lashio prisons respectively, all in Shan State. Meanwhile Htay Kywe has been moved to Buthidaung prison in Arakan State in the west of the country, and Htay Win Aung aka Pyone Cho has been moved to Kawthaung Prison in Tenasserim division in the far south.
“It is no coincidence that the most important leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group have been transferred to the prisons furthest away from their families in Rangoon,” said Bo Kyi. “This is just another form of psychological torture by the regime. It will take a lot of time, money and effort for their families to visit and provide essential food and medicine. This is exhausting for them, at an already difficult time.”
Many of the prisons in the remoter border areas have high rates of malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS. Some of the prisons have no prison hospital ward or doctor, for example Katha and Hkamti Prisons in Sagaing Division.
“With these prison transfers, the regime is trying to adopt a strategy of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ But we will never let that happen,” continued Bo Kyi.
Following his visit to Burma in early August, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, set out ‘core human rights elements’ that Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council should put in place before the elections scheduled for 2010. They are amend domestic laws that limit freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly; repeal discriminatory laws; stop the recruitment of child soldiers; and release all political prisoners.
“The release of all political prisoners is a critical step in the process of national reconciliation, but the regime is moving backwards, not forwards. The regime continues to defy the presidential statement made by the UN Security Council on 11 October 2007, calling for the release of all Burma’s political prisoners. The UN Security Council needs to take concrete action to secure their release, without further delay,” said Bo Kyi.
- ENDS -
For more information, please contact:
Ko Tate Naing at +66-(0)81-2878751
Ko Bo Kyi at +66-(0)81-3248935