RANGOON — A new report by Amnesty International has claimed that the Burmese government’s detention of rights activists and other prisoners of conscience has intensified as the country’s landmark general election draws near.
With a month left before the Nov. 8 poll, Thursday’s report highlighted the continued use of unlawful assembly and incitement statutes to lock up a new generation of prominent civil society voices since the beginning of the year.
“[Burma’s] authorities have clearly been playing a long game ahead of the elections, with repression picking up pace at least nine months before the campaigning period started in September,” Laura Haigh, Amnesty’s Burma researcher, said in a press release. “Their goal has been straightforward—take ‘undesirable’ voices off the streets way ahead of the elections and make sure they’re not heard.”
In a September update, the Mae Sot-based Assistance Associated for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B) catalogued 109 political prisoners in the country, followed by a further 460 people facing trial for political activities, an increase from 33 and 136 respectively following a sweeping presidential pardon at the end of December 2013.
Among the cases documented by Amnesty are the scores of student demonstrators arrested in March for protesting against the National Education Law, the conviction of former National League for Democracy information officer Htin Lin Oo on religious offense grounds, and human rights activist Naw Ohn Hla, who was convicted on unlawful assembly charges for demonstrating against the Letpadaung copper mining project outside the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon.
“The authorities are targeting leading activists, media people—in particular people who could be doing election monitoring, people who are very active and will support campaigns for certain political parties,” Aung Myo Kyaw, an AAPP-B member, told Amnesty.
Amnesty has called on the Burmese government to release all political prisoners, and to drop outstanding charges against a number of protesters detained on peaceful assembly and freedom of expression charges. The full report can be read here.