Political Prisoners in Burma Increase in September: AAPP

By Nyein Nyein, Political Prisoners 18 October 2013

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says the number of political prisoners in Burma rose last month, with 33 activists and protestors put behind bars in September while more than 200 others are facing trials.

The number marked a “significant increase,” said the Thailand-based AAPP, despite President Thein Sein’s vow to release all of Burma’s remaining political prisoners by the end of this year.

The AAPP said 232 activists are facing trial for leading various protests across the country since 2012. Ten convicted political prisoners were discharged last month after fully serving their prison terms, meaning Burma added a net 23 political prisoners to its cells last month.

Those imprisoned in September included 20 peace protest organizers, six farmers charged with trespassing and others found guilty of violating a variety of statutes including defamation, the Unlawful Association Law, Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act and Section 505(b) of the Burmese Penal Code, according to Khin Cho Myint, the AAPP’s documentation officer.

Section 18 requires that would-be demonstrators receive permission from relevant government authorities before staging a protest, while Section 505(b) pertains to those accused of “intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”

The AAPP also separately recorded the cases of farmers who are facing trial for plowing lands confiscated by the government.

“We were able to record about 149 farmers,” Khin Cho Myint said, “who are charged under Section 18 and with trespassing, within the three-month period from June to August 2013.”

She said the number of farmers’ cases could increase by several hundred more that AAPP has not yet been able to gather adequate information about. Most of the documented cases are from Irrawaddy, Pegu and Rangoon divisions and northern Arakan State, she added.

Some 135 political prisoners remain in prison, according to the AAPP, 10 days after the government released 56 largely ethnic political prisoners, most of whom were charged under the Unlawful Association Law.

The 33 convictions considered by AAPP to be political in nature compare with just seven people sentenced in August.

Bo Kyi, the joint-secretary of the AAPP, said on Friday that talks between his organization and the government were ongoing.

“We are still discussing the details about the remaining political prisoners,” he told The Irrawaddy.Bo Kyi is also a member of a government-appointed committee charged with assessing the legal status of prisoners suspected of having been jailed for political reasons.

Both political prisoners locked up under the previous military regime and those charged since Thein Sein took office have been released in several presidential amnesties since 2011.

Those still serving sentences are a mix of convictions made prior to and during Thein Sein’s presidency.

“In our list, 66 of them were imprisoned under the previous regime, while 38 were imprisoned under the current government,” said Bo Kyi, referring to the official government committee’s list, which differs slightly from AAPP’s tally.

The scrutinizing committee’s job is getting more difficult as some of the prisoners still under consideration are behind bars on criminal charges such as rape or murder, he said, adding that “the government cannot provide us with the information we need for the process.”

This week, two Arkanese protest organizers were sentence to three months in prison under Section 18, while two others in Rangoon and Prome were released after paying fines.

Bo Kyi said the application of Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law remained a concern for Burma’s justice system, which AAPP was discussing with the government.

“As we have said repeatedly, we cannot say that there are no more political prisoners without releasing all of them,” he said.