Even one political prisoner is too many

In January of this year over 300 political prisoners were granted conditional releases from Burma’s jails. However, Ko Aye Aung, who has already spent 14 years in jail, continues to be confined behind bars to serve the rest of his 59-year sentence.

Since the results of the April 1st by-elections, there has been an upsurge of positive praise for the Burmese regime by the international community. As the West continues to reward and praise the Burmese government for their incremental moves towards democratization, it must be stressed that countless archaic and repressive laws still shackle the country; and hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars in deplorable conditions.

Khun Kawrio was detained in 2008 and sentenced to 56 years in prison for participating in the “Vote No” campaign against the regime’s sham constitutional referendum. He is suffering from water in his lungs, caused by being subjected to 15 days of water torture during interrogation by prison authorities. Mu Evelin, a female who was arrested along with Khun Kawrio but then later released, recounted that “they were beaten with sticks, made to kneel on stones and kicked and plastic tape put over their mouths while being hit in the body. In addition, plastic bags were put over their heads and then water poured over them. The water torture caused ‘water in the lungs’ of Khun Kawrio and he has suffered with this condition for around 3 months.” Khun Kawrio’s health continues to deteriorate in prison, where he is denied access to medication and has not seen his family since 2009.

Unfortunately, Khun Kawrio’s story and experience is not an anomaly in Burma. Under the dictatorial junta, thousands of people were arrested, tortured, and sentenced to decades in prison for such simple acts as passing out anti-regime fliers. The conditions in Burmese prisons are shocking and in no way comply with international prison standards. Many prisoners are forced into solitary confinement in a blackened soundproof cell no larger than 10 feet in length and 7 feet wide. Many of these political prisoners have not been pardoned and hundreds remain in prison.

In a joint op-ed, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International noted on the number of remaining political prisoners in Burma:

“The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, founded and staffed by former prisoners who live in exile, says it has verified another 473 political prisoners, plus 465 cases in the process of verification. Another group, the Former Prisoners Network in Yangon, estimates 445 cases based on interviews with recently released prisoners. Remaining political prisoners include approximately 50 Buddhist monks, many student activists and by some accounts, 18 women. And there are almost certainly more ethnic minority political prisoners than appear on anyone’s list.”

While commending the Burmese regime for its moves towards democratization, the international community must not negate and ignore the blatant human rights abuses still being committed by the government, and must not forget about the hundreds of political prisoners who are still held captive in jail.

Read more here: “Rights groups say hundreds still detained in Burma” Associated Press


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