Activists for Political Prisoners Meet in Rangoon

By Lawi Weng & Nang Seng Nom 17 January 2013

RANGOON—Former political prisoners organized a fundraising event for the country’s remaining prisoners of conscience and for the victims of the ongoing Kachin conflict in Rangoon.

The three-day event this week centered on the two issues, but it also included musical performances and other entertainment. Moreover, the event provided an occasion for former political prisoners and activists to meet and refocus their efforts to push for freedom in Burma.

Nyo Tun, a former political prisoner and leading member of the League of Political Ex-Prisoners, said that organizing the event, which was attended by some 200 people, had been difficult as the government only gave its permission at the very last moment.

The money raised at the event would help support the League of Political Ex-Prisoners, which has been struggling to raise sufficient funds for its programs, he said, adding that some of it would be used to offer livelihood support to former political prisoners and for aid for victims of the Kachin conflict in northern Burma.

Htay Kywe, an 88 Generation activist who attended the fundraising event, said there was still a strong need to fight for the release of the last prisoners. “There is no clear policy from the government when we asked them to release to all of the people,” he said, adding, “There should not be any political prisoners as the country is undergoing democratic change.”

Htay Kywe, a former political prisoner, said the government was keeping people locked up on a range of politically-motivated charges, making it hard for activists to monitor their situation and get an exact figure for the total number of remaining prisoners of conscience.

According to the website of Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP), 222 political prisoners remained incarcerated in Burma, while more than 100 are facing trial, mostly in Arakan and Kachin states. Before President Thein Sein began political reforms in Burma in 2011, an estimated 2,000 political activists were locked up.

AAPP Joint Secretary Bo Kyi said much work remained to be done in order to release the prisoners of conscience and to remove repressive laws that are still in place, adding that he would work with the 88 Student Generation activists to achieve these goals.

“Burma will have a better image in terms of political change, if the government releases all remaining political prisoners. More foreign investment would come after that,” Bo Kyi said on Tuesday. Bo Kyi and his colleague Tate Naing returned to Rangoon this month 16 years after they formed the AAPP in exile. During this trip, the two activists said, they would discuss with authorities for the release of political prisoners and the rehabilitation of former political prisoners.

AAPP Secretary Tate Naing said that returning to Rangoon and seeing his former cellmates after 16 years in exile was bittersweet. “I could not recognize some of my former inmates very well. They have all become old-aged,” he said.