Project to Tell Stories of Thousands of Political Prisoners

By Political Parties, San Yamin Aung 22 April 2014

RANGOON — More than 2,000 people have already been interviewed as part of an ongoing project to record the experiences of political prisoners who were jailed in Burma over half a century of military rule, according to project leaders.

The Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS) and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) have since January been compiling the country’s first comprehensive list of people who were imprisoned for political reasons between 1962 and 2013. The advocacy groups in the past have compiled limited lists of former political prisoners, but never across the entire country or over such a long period of time.

As part of the project they are also recording these prisoners’ experiences, with help from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) as well as activists from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society.

“We collected data from about 2,000 political prisoners over three months, but we expect it will take the entire year to finish collecting information from all of the political prisoners,” Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the AAPP, told The Irrawaddy.

He said political prisoners were encouraged to share a range of details, including memories from prison inspections to biographical information about themselves and their financial situations following their release from prison. Thus far, data has been collected in Kachin and Chin states as well as Rangoon, Irrawaddy, Sagaing and Magwe divisions.

“Some don’t want to give their personal information. They are afraid the data will be leaked to the government and could lead to their imprisonment again,” Bo Kyi said.

The AAPP, based in Thailand, says peaceful protesters continue to be detained in Burma under the current nominally civilian government, which came to power in 2011. The advocacy group said 21 activists were arrested in March, 54 activists were indicted and four were sentenced.

Aung Myo Kyaw, another spokesman from the AAPP, told The Irrawaddy in January that activist groups in the past lacked sufficient data to effectively advocate on behalf of political prisoners and former political prisoners.

“We haven’t had definite data while talking to the international community and the local government. Before this, nobody knew the number of political prisoners or their information,” he said.

Bo Kyi said he hoped the current project would support the adoption of new legislation to assist former political prisoners.

The AAPP says 30 political prisoners remain behind bars, despite a pledge by President Thein Sein to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013.

“Many activists were detained this year, including journalists and farmers,” Bo Kyi said. “This shows that the country is not on the right path to democracy.”