Remaining Political Prisoners Committed Other Crimes: Govt

By San Yamin Aung 3 November 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s government said that 27 political prisoners who remain behind bars despite a request for amnesty by rights groups are still incarcerated for committing other crimes.

State-run newspapers defended the government’s continued detention of the 27 individuals after the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and Rangoon-based Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS) reported that there were still 30 political prisoners in confinement.

“It was found that three of the prisoners have been released and the remaining 27 prisoners committed other crimes. Their sentences for political activities have been annulled under [an] order of the President’s Office dated 30 December 2013,” wrote the Global New Light of Myanmar, which listed the alleged crimes of each of the 27 prisoners.

The government has asserted that all political prisoners were released at the end of last year, in accordance with a pledge made by President Thein Sein during a monthly radio address to the nation in August 2013.

Bo Kyi, joint secretary of AAPP and also a member of a government committee established by Thein Sein last year to assess the cases of the country’s remaining political prisoners, said that 30 political prisoners remained in jail after the last 2013 presidential amnesty.

“The statement is not complete,” Bo Kyi said. “The three who were released since their imprisonment finished were not subject to the amnesty. The other 27 were arrested for politically motivated reasons, and sentenced with other additional alleged criminal charges during the military dictatorship.”

He said that in the Government-backed Political Prisoners Assessment Committee, there was general agreement that those who were arrested for reasons related to political activity are political prisoners, and the list of outstanding political prisoners was presented according to that criteria.

“We can’t measure the political prisoners only against what they have been charged with. We need to put the reasons of why they were arrested and their background into consideration,” he said.

Bo Kyi said that the remaining 27 prisoners include members from ethnic-armed groups and others incarcerated for political reasons. He cited as an example the former Air Force member Chit Ko, who was arrested for contacting the International Labour Organization, as an example of someone who shouldn’t have been imprisoned in the first place.

While serving as a pilot at the Myeik Airbase Headquarters, Chit Ko sent an email to the ILO asking whether the organization could assist him to leave his unit. As a result he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2012, with a 900 day remission granted earlier this year.

“We need to recognize those 27 remaining prisoners which the government has denied are political prisoners,” said lawmaker and former political prisoner Sandar Min.

“It is not only now—in the past too, it has been usual for authorities to make politically motivated arrests and prosecutions, not only using political charges but also alleged criminal charges,” she said.

Sandar Min said that the FPPS and AAPP have provided the president with a definition of political prisoners which was formalized from a two-day workshop jointly held by the two organizations in August. The groups are yet to receive any feedback or a response on whether their definition was accepted.

“We urgently need to have the definition that both government and political activists agree to,” she said.

Bo Kyi from AAPP said that the finalized definition from the workshop will be submitted to the parliament.

He said that in addition to those political prisoners identified before the reform process, many more have since been jailed. In total, he said, there are 76 political prisoners behind bars at present, including journalists, land rights advocates and activists. Eighty-nine farmers are currently in prison and over 100 activists are facing trial.

Since taking office in 2011, Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government has released thousands of political prisoners and last year about 200 prisoners were released in the course of several rounds of presidential amnesties.