27 July 2009
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar's political prisoners

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi honoured with Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience award U2 concert in Dublin, 27 July 2009

© U2

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is on trial for allegedly violating the terms and conditions of her house arrest. The leader of the Myanmar opposition party, the National League for Democracy, was arrested shortly before her house detention order was to expire on 27 May 2009. A verdict in her trial is imminent. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.

She has been detained for over 13 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest. Her first period in detention began  in July 1989 as the Myanmar government intensified its crackdown on nationwide pro-democracy protests that began a year earlier.

Twenty years on, she's still being denied her freedom. She is a prisoner of conscience, and she should be freed at once, without condition and not be returned to house arrest.

Amnesty International announced on 27 July that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been awarded its most prestigious honour – the “Ambassador of Conscience” Award for 2009.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the most prominent of over 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar. Many are held in poor conditions, and are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Conditions in Myanmar’s prisons are harming the health of many political prisoners. Access to medical treatment is severely limited. Many prisoners are denied adequate food and are therefore malnourished.

Judicial proceedings show no regard for due process, and many trials have been held in special closed courts. Since October 2008, when the government began sentencing en masse those who had peacefully taken part in major anti-government protests in August and September 2007, more than 350 political activists have been jailed.
 
Some of these political activists have been given lengthy jail terms –- one being sentenced to 104 years in November 2008, while 23 others were sentenced to 65 years.

Ten individual cases highlighted below represent the unending political repression in Myanmar in the last two decades.
All ten individuals are prisoners of conscience, meaning that they have been imprisoned solely on account of their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, colour, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status –- who have not used violence, or advocated violence or hatred.

U Saw Naing Naing and U Soe Han

Elderly prisoners of conscience, U Saw Naing Naing and U Soe Han, were sentenced to 21 years’ imprisonment each in 2000 for publishing a statement that urged the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. They are being held in Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. On 12 June 2009, it was learned that U Saw Naing Naing and U Soe Han, together with three other political prisoners, had been moved to specials punishment cells, known as “dog cells.” A “dog cell” is a space to keep military/prison dogs.

1988 Generation Students Group – Htay Kywe, Mie Mie and Zaw Htet Ko Ko

Activists Htay Kywe, Mie Mie and Zaw Htet Ko Ko were arrested in the hunt for the people behind the major anti-government protests that began in August 2007. Htay Kywe and Mie Mie are now serving 65 years in prison while Zaw Htet Ko Ko has been jailed for 11 years.  All three are members of a pro-democracy group, the 88 Generation Students.

Khaing Kaung San

Human rights activist Khaing Kaung San fled political persecution in Myanmar for Thailand in the 1990s, where he was granted asylum, but he was forcibly returned in 2000 and sentenced to ten years in prison. Khaing Kaung San, an ethnic Arakanese, was a well-known political dissident and human rights activist who had worked closely with groups providing support to other Arakanese people living in exile in Thailand.

U Win Htein

U Win Htein, a senior assistant to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is serving a 14-year prison sentence. He was imprisoned in 1996 for organizing the collection of information about agricultural productivity that the government deemed to be sensitive, and for helping three foreign journalists report on prison conditions for political prisoners in Myanmar. He is in poor health.

Myo Min Zaw and Ko Aye Aung

Student activists Myo Min Zaw and Ko Aye Aung were arrested on 14 September 1998 for distributing leaflets and organizing student demonstrations in Yangon. Both men were leading members of the banned All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU). Myo Min Zaw and Ko Aye Aung are serving sentences totalling 52 years and 45 years respectively. They were reported to have been tortured during interrogation.

Zarganar

Popular comedian Zarganar is serving a 35-year prison sentence for leading a movement that collected money and supplies for the survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar on 2-3 May 2008.
He was arrested on 4 June 2008, after he criticised the government’s handling of the cyclone relief situation in interviews with foreign journalists. Zarganar, who had joined the 1988 uprising against military rule, had been previously arrested for his pro-democracy efforts. 

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Release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar's political prisoners

I welcome the call by ASEAN foreign ministers on 23 July 2009 that the Myanmar government should release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. As the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for an alleged breach of the terms and conditions of her house arrest draws on into a third month, we ask you, as the ASEAN Secretary-General, to work to unite and focus all ASEAN member states in securing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's release.
 
ASEAN as a whole must urgently bring about decisive diplomatic pressure on Myanmar to free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other prisoners of conscience in the country.
 
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the Myanmar opposition party, the National League for Democracy, has been detained for over 13 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested for the first time in July 1989 as the Myanmar government intensified its crackdown on nationwide pro-democracy protests which began a year earlier. Twenty years on, she's still being denied her freedom. She is a prisoner of conscience, and she should be freed at once, without condition and not be returned to house arrest.
 
I am also drawing your attention to ten other prisoners of conscience who, together with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, represent the unending political repression in Myanmar in the last two decades. One of these individuals is imprisoned for organizing voluntary relief efforts in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar in May 2008, while others are behind bars for protesting in the August/September 2007 anti-government demonstrations. They join other political activists who have been in prison since the 1990s.
 
Their immediate and unconditional freedom is crucial to the protection of human rights in Myanmar, and to the credibility of ASEAN.
 
Thank you for your attention.

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