Free Last Political Prisoners, Lift Travel Ban: HRW

Protesters in Manila call for the release of Burma’s remaining political prisoners. (Photo: Reuters)

Protesters in Manila call for the release of Burma’s remaining political prisoners. (Photo: Reuters)

The Burmese government should immediately free all remaining political prisoners and lift travel and other restrictions on those already released, urges Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Burmese President Thein Sein issued three amnesties to hundreds of political prisoners in the last year yet 470 are believed to remain behind bars, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

HRW called for independent international monitors to be permitted unhindered access to Burma’s many places of incarceration to provide a public accounting of all remaining political prisoners.

“The Burmese government is dragging its feet rather than fulfilling its promises to release all political prisoners,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “Donor countries promoting reform should actively press Burma to meet its human rights commitments by immediately freeing the remaining political prisoners and lifting all restrictions against them.”

Former Industry Minister Soe Thane, now a minister in the President’s Office, said during a meeting in Oslo, Norway, in June that Thein Sein intended to release all remaining political prisoners by July. However, no subsequent release has so far been announced.

Since July 2012, HRW interviewed 12 recently released political prisoners from various ethnic groups who said that the Burmese government placed severe restrictions on them, including on their freedom of movement.

Burma’s Ministry of Home Affairs has refused to issue passports to many former political prisoners, including democracy and human rights activists, public interest lawyers and journalists. The Burmese government has also failed to address significant psychosocial and economic needs of former political prisoners when they attempt to reintegrate into society, said HRW.

Prominent Burmese activist Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Students group, on Saturday canceled a trip to receive an award in the United States in order to show solidarity with more than a dozen fellow activists whose applications for passports have apparently been denied.

“I really value the award given by the National Endowment for Democracy, but I have decided not to travel to Washington to accept it,” Min Ko Naing told The Associated Press. “On principle, I will not travel alone when my colleagues are denied their citizens’ rights. We should be treated as equals and be given passports together.”

Former political prisoners told HRW that they were ineligible to obtain a passport for a period of one year following their release, but no legal basis was provided for this decision. Nevertheless, certain prominent former political prisoners—such as Aung San Suu Kyi, the comedian Zarganar and Min Ko Naing—have been permitted to travel abroad.

“President Thein Sein is denying passports to former political prisoners, just as he is able to travel in the US after years on a blacklist,” said Robertson. “Accepting all passport requests from ex-political prisoners would close one of the huge gaps in Burma’s touted march to reform.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is broadly accepted as reflecting customary international law, provides in article 13(2) that, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

“We are not criminals, we were political prisoners. We were released by presidential amnesty. We feel we have a right to re-attend the class,” said former political prisoner Nyein Linn. “We think this is discrimination against the political prisoners. If we were in the university then we would be working for the student union, and the government doesn’t want that.”

6 Responses to Free Last Political Prisoners, Lift Travel Ban: HRW

  1. Thein Sein’s sugar-coated poison is revealed more and more visible now. Why are many political prisoners still kept behind Bars today? What is the reason many names from Than Shwe’s blacklist still not cleared? Who were released and who still are not? Is the government trying to divide all political activists? Is Thein Sein a reformer or just a crooked man? I think we are seeing his true color more and more vividly as time passes by.

  2. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    The existence of political prisoners as hostage, the travel ban on opponents as restriction of movement, and the rules by fears as suppression of justices contradicts the will of rule of law, the path to democracy and equal rights and justices before the law.

    President U Thein Sein has to do more to convince the people that he is for the people and the country by overturning every unjust action taken by previous regime against its opponents without any facts and evidences. The senselessness of barbaric acts in Burma has to come to its end without any further delay should Burma is in what president said is in its progress to have a good governance for the people, by the people and of the people.

    At least, current government of Burma must give tangible reasons and sensible answers to this unfairness and its divided-rule practice against political activists. No more time to waste to stop this ticking clock of volcano to its explosion to the destruction of Burma existence.

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  3. Playing with fire and playing with human life seem the Burmese way to Democracy. Thein Sein released prisoners(most of them may be pure criminals) just before he travels to America. What is his agenda behind this? This kind of politics is so filthy. We do not appreciate it. It was supposed to happen since Thein Sein became our President. Why is he dragging his feet? The remaining political prisoners must be released without hesitation or without delaying a day. No more dirty trick, please.

  4. They are being used as political bargaining chips by a cruel bunch of thugs.

  5. Before we believe that there are still REAL political prisoners behind bar, can you put up a list or refer to a website having that list, so that we can see for ourselves, who they are, their ICs, where they are from, what crimes they have been charged with by govt, etc.

    You wanted the govt of this (third world) country to be transparent, fast to address your needs, accountable, etc., may be you can be transparent by providing us with that link?

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