Non-profit urges Myanmar to free political prisoners

Updated on : Feb 22,2018   6:42 pm

Bangkok, Feb 22 (IANS) The non-profit Fortify Rights on Thursday urged the government of Myanmar, led by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to free all political prisoners and ensure that human rights defenders can conduct their work.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners of Myanmar, 229 people have been persecuted for their political activities in the country, including 45 who are serving sentences and 51 prisoners facing trials.

"Freedom of expression is a right, not a privilege. The government of Myanmar needs to free the country's remaining political prisoners and ensure that freedom of expression is protected for everyone," Fortify Rights CEO Matthew Smith said in a statement cited by Efe news.

The call came after Myanmar authorities on Thursday released activist Khaing Myo Htun after he served 18 months in prison for alleging that the Myanmar Army used forced labour and tortured civilians.

The NGO's statement mentioned other such cases, including that of the two Reuters journalists arrested on December 12, 2017, on charges of revealing state secrets.

It also cited the example of Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Langjaw Gam Seng -- religious leaders of the Kachin minority -- who were sentenced to 51 and 27 months in prison, respectively, on October 27, 2017, under the Unlawful Association Act and other charges.

Both leaders were arrested when they were helping journalists investigate alleged human rights abuses by the Army in the northern Shan state in 2016.

The most serious allegations of human rights abuse in Myanmar were related to the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority, with over 688,000 Rohingyas seeking refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh after fleeing violence in the western state of Rakhine.

The mass exodus started after the military carried out a campaign in retaliation against an attack by a Rohingya rebel group on August 25, 2017, in a province inhabited by around one million members of the minority.

The UN and human rights organisations repeatedly said that there was clear evidence of rights violations in Rakhine, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the violence an example of "ethnic cleansing".

On Thursday, Amnesty International criticised the "demonisation" of Rohingyas in Rakhine and the alleged apathy of world leaders towards what it called ethnic cleansing and the exodus of refugees.