Political Prisoner Count Soars During Month of Arrests

By Nyein Nyein 6 April 2015

RANGOON — The number of political prisoners in Burma has increased to nearly 470, according to a rights group, in a major backslide after a series of amnesties in recent years geared toward ridding the countries jails of prisoners conscience.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), among Burma’s most active advocates for prisoners of conscious since it was founded on the Thai-Burma border in 2000, said that 172 people are now serving prison terms for politically motivated charges, while 296 others are awaiting trial.

Those currently in prison include political and land rights activists, farmers, journalists, members of ethnic armed organizations and students, the AAPP said in its monthly bulletin. The charges include various controversial clauses such as unlawful assembly, incitement, unlawful association and rioting.

The group said that a spike in arrests over the past month indicate that there is “no sign of abating” in political imprisonments, particularly in light of the detention of more than 100 people during a crackdown on demonstrators in Letpadan, central Burma, early last month.

AAPPP Secretary Bo Kyi told The Irrawaddy that the incident proved there is “no political stability in Burma yet,” urging the government to hold officers accountable for violence against and wrongful arrest of the demonstrators.

“If actions are not taken against those [police officers], it shows that this is the government’s policy [to use violence against peaceful protesters],” said Bo Kyi.

The group said that individuals on the roster are identified by using criteria established by the AAPP and the Rangoon-based Former Political Prisoners Society in August 2014.

While the AAPP once participated in a government committee tasked with identifying and releasing prisoners of conscience, which made recommendations throughout a series of presidential amnesties, the committee was reconstituted early this year, controversially excluding the AAPP.

Bo Kyi described the new committee as “just for show,” adding that it is ultimately under the control of Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Ko Ko, a controversial figure who was recently fingered as a potential war criminal by a Harvard-based legal clinic.

During his time on the committee, the number of political prisoners dropped to just 33 by the start of 2014. President Thein Sein, however, had promised to free all political prisoners by that time, which he failed to accomplish.