The military regime has used the detention of prisoners of conscience as a tactic to promote fear and self-censorship among the Burmese public and ethnic groups for decades. Although Burma's government has released roughly 800 prisoners of conscience since the end of 2011, per the recent instruction of international powers as a stipulation to lift trade and investment sanctions, hundreds more remain in prison without fair trial, subject to extrajudicial killings and torture.

Unfortunately, all releases of prisoners of conscience have been conditional under Section 401 of the penal code. Simply put, this section of Burmese law states that the President may at any time, under any circumstance, reimpose the remaining sentence of the prisoner, who can then be rearrested without warrant. Many people who are released are refused the right to travel and move freely as threats of reimprisonment loom over their daily lives. Those released who are convicted of new crimes must serve the remainder of their previous suspended sentence along with their new sentence. Meanwhile, the laws and constitutional provisions restricting freedom of expression that legitimize political arrests have not been repealed, and new laws restricting freedom, like the 2012 Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, have been instated.

In fact, due to the Burmese army's ongoing offensive wars in northern Kachin and Shan States, and the escalating violence and ethnic cleansing policies targeting Rohingya Muslims and minority Muslim populations in Burma, the number of prisoners of conscience has increased exponentially over the last two years. Many detained as prisoners of conscience are being held under Burmese law Section 17-1: unlawful association. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tomas Ojea Quintana, has repeatedly condemned the imprisonment of the roughly 250 prisoners of conscience affiliated with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)/Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and the estimated 1,100+ Rohingya who have been detained since the June 2012 violence in Arakan State. Read Quintana's March 2013 report to the Human Rights Council to learn more.  

Much public misconception over Burma’s prisoner situation lies in the term “political prisoner.” Commonly conceived, a “political prisoner” is arrested for what he/she does to perceivably threaten the authority of the regime, but in a country where one doesn’t have to be responsible for any action at all to be arrested, this conception is far too narrow. A “prisoner of conscience,” on the other hand, may be targeted for either what he/she does or merely for who he/she is, like, for example, a Kachin male.

Broad constitutional licenses legitimize Burma’s arbitrary detentions, violations of due process rights and habeus corpus, and the new arrests of activists, ethnic minorities, and rural workers and farmers, are regularly reported. The Burmese government has refused to reform the penal code and stop arresting new prisoners of conscience, and the US government should not mistake the releasing of selected prisoners at politically advantageous moments as a genuine step toward justice in Burma. The future of Burma depends on the government’s willingness to embrace justice and human rights for all, which must be promoted unreservedly by the US Administration.


CAMPAIGNS

freehtinlinoo FREE HTIN LIN OO

NLD columnist Htin Lin Oo has been sentenced to two years of prison with hard labor after a speech he gave in October 2014. His two hour speech criticized the use of Buddhism to promote discrimination, and spurred outrage from extremist Buddhist groups.

We urge you to take action and write to the regime to liberate Htin Lin Oo without conditions, and to address the use religion to create hostility and violence against non-Buddhists.

freehtinlinoo #2015PalmCampaign

The gradual increase of political prisoners in the last year makes it clear that the Burmese government is cracking down on fundamental freedoms as the 2015 elections loom near. The 2015 Palm Campaign’s goals are to demonstrate the international community’s widespread call that the government needs to put an end to the oppressive laws to harass, arrest, and imprison activists.

The campaign showcases photos of supporters that have written the name of a political prisoner on their right hand, and are added to the AAPP social media pages with the hashtag #2015PalmCampaign.


RESOURCES

CSIreportlearn UN Information Centre: Yangon

Read more reports from UN Special Rapporteur regarding political prisoners in Burma

 

CSIreportlearn Targeting and Torturing Public Enemies

by Asian Legal Resource Centre - This briefing by Asian Legal Resource Centre offers an overview of prisoners of conscience detained under the Unlawful Associations Act released in February 2013.

 

HRWcs07 AAPPB

Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) - read reports and profiles of current political prisoners in Burma. The AAPPB works solely on behalf of political prisoners to advocate for their release and help them acclimate back into everyday living in Burma.

 

CSI2012 All You Can Do is Pray

by Human Rights Watch - April 2013. This report by HRW discusses a number of issues regarding the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims - notes the detention of hundreds.