Myanmar: Political imprisonment in numbers

Today, Amnesty International released the report New expression meets old repression. Here is a look at some of the key numbers behind the growing crackdown on freedom of expression in Myanmar.

Intensification of political detention and imprisonment

Since 2011, more than 1,100 political prisoners have been released in Myanmar through 20 separate presidential amnesties or pardons. 

However, in the past two years – since 2014 – the authorities have intensified their crackdown on basic freedoms and dissent.

Amnesty International is aware of at least 90 prisoners of conscience currently behind bars. Several hundred more human rights defenders and peaceful activists are on trial.

The prisoners of conscience include at least:

We believe the actual numbers to be much higher.

Resurgence of lengthy detention and imprisonment

Myanmar authorities often charge activists with multiple “offences” or under laws that prevent them from getting bailed out – to keep them off the streets for longer. Another tactic is to try activists for the same “offences” in several different townships, which then increases their sentences exponentially.

  • 6: The number of townships in which activist Naw Ohn Hla has been charged in for staging the same protest march – meaning she could be sentenced six separate times for the same activity.
  • 70: The number of individuals currently in prison charged or sentenced under non-bailable offenses, which means they could or have been left in pre-trial detention for months or even years. 
  • 13 years and 10 months is the time political activist Htin Kyaw has been sentenced to spend in prison. The “crime” that led to this outrageously long sentence? Distributing leaflets criticizing the government and a series of peaceful protests. 

Weakening organisations and movements and maintaining a climate of fear

The authorities are using politically motivated charges to weaken or shut down entire opposition movements by targeting leaders or by “collectively punishing” a group of individuals.

  • At least 56 students or their supporters are currently detained in different prisons for participating in or supporting student-led protests against a new education law.
  • 17 is the number of media workers from the Daily Eleven charged with contempt of court for one article published about the trial of their colleagues. 

Political trials are often lengthy. Apart from the loss of freedom, such delays also often have a devastating effect on the daily lives of the families of those imprisoned.

  • 19 is the number of months that lawyer Zaw Win has been on trial and in detention. He was arrested in August 2014 after he staged a peaceful solo protest against biased judges and calling for better administration of justice.

The authorities use the threat of arrest as a way to create and maintain a climate of fear among human rights defenders and activists. Tactics include charging activists months, or even years, after a protest took place.

  • Six years after Naw Ohn Hla organized a prayer ceremony calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all other prisoners of conscience in 2007, she has now been sentenced to six months imprisonment with disturbing a religious ceremony.

Ending the cycle of political imprisonment

10 repressive laws and provisions were commonly used to imprison prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in the last two years. As long as these laws remain on the books, political arrest and imprisonment will continue.

In Myanmar’s new Parliament there are more than 122 former political prisoners. This is a unique opportunity to review these laws.

is the number of meetings the reconstituted Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee had in 2015 – a body that could offer a ray of hope for those behind bars, but in effect has achieved little.