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Campaigners Slam Arrest of Prominent Burmese Rights Activists (click to view PDF)

Urgent Referral to UN Torture Body and Appeal to China

For Immediate Release
August 21, 2007
Contact: Jeremy Woodrum (202) 234-8022

(Washington, DC, August 21, 2007) A leading US human rights organization today condemned the arrest of several prominent human rights activists in the Southeast Asian country of Burma including the country’s second most prominent leader Min Ko Naing.

The arrests by Than Shwe’s military regime took place as the United Nations Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari plans to visit the country in the coming weeks, months after China vetoed a peaceful UN Security Council resolution that would have strengthened the hand of the UN in dealing with Burma.

“Min Ko Naing and the other leaders arrested have all been severely tortured during previous incarcerations and we are gravely concerned for their immediate well-being,” said Aung Din, Policy Director at the US Campaign for Burma. “We call on China and the United Nations to take immediate action to ensure their safety and release.”

Although facts are still coming to light, it appears that the leaders were arrested based on Than Shwe’s fears of nationwide demonstrations after his regime doubled the price of diesel and petrol and quintupled the prices of compressed natural gas for cooking and buses in recent weeks. The move has sparked widespread anger in Burma, as Burma’s exports of fuel has skyrocketed and brought the military regime windfall profits.

The dramatic sudden increase in prices is making basic survival difficult for all except for Burma’s elite.

The arrests also follow a march on Sunday in which several leading Burmese human rights activists protested the increase in prices (see photos of protest attached).

At least nine members of the 88 Generation students group have been arrested along with three members of the Myanmar Development Committee, five University students and more arrests are expected. Five of those arrested were student leaders during a major popular uprising in Burma in 1988, which the military regime responded to by killing up to 10,000 students and activists throughout the country. They spent over 15 years in prison after suffering severe torture and were released in 2004.

In September 2006 several were again arrested but were released on the eve of a United Nations Security Council meeting on Burma in January 2007. The Security Council subsequently tabled a resolution that garnered enough votes to pass, but was vetoed by China.

Those arrested now join the world’s only incarcerated Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi as political prisoners in Burma. The most prominent of those arrested, Min Ko Naing, has won numerous international awards for his peaceful, nonviolent calls for democracy in Burma including the Civil Courage Prize from the Northcote Parkinson Fund in the United States, the Homo Homini Award from People in Need in the Czech Republic, the John Humphrey Freedom Award from the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development in Canada, and the Student Peace Prize, widely considered the “junior” Nobel Peace Prize in Norway.

“We are preparing to file urgent cases with the United Nations Special Rapportuer on Torture Manfred Nowak,” said Aung Din. “We are especially concerned because Burma’s military regime refuses to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit political prisoners in Burma.”

In June, the ICRC issued a rare condemnation of Burma’s military regime for its abuse of its own citizens, reportedly the organization’s strongest condemnation of a government since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Over 3,000 ethnic minority villages have been burned, landmined, or forcibly relocated by Than Shwe’s regime over the past decade, including over 100 villages in the past year alone. Recent scientific reports show that health statistics for conflict areas in Burma are now on par with the worst conflict zones in Africa. Burma’s military regime has also recruited up to 70,000 child soldiers, far more than any other country in the world, while refusing to adequately fund HIV/AIDs programs. Over 1 million refugees have fled the country, while 500,000 remain internal refugees in the war zones of eastern Burma.