Friday, March 13, 2009

Political Prisoners Doubled in Two Years, Say Activists

The Irrawaddy News

The number of political prisoners in Burma has almost doubled since July 2007, according to activists who launched a campaign on Friday to press for their release.

Before the start of demonstrations in August 2007, it was estimated that Burmese jails held 1,100 political prisoners. Today the number stands at 2,100, said Khin Ohmar, a leading Burmese activist at the launch of the campaign “Free Burma’s Political Prisoners Now!” ( in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

“Unless political prisoners are released, there is no peace and stability in the country,” she said.

The “Free Burma’s Political Prisoners Now!” campaign is organized by the Thailand-based Burmese Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP) and the Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB), an umbrella dissident group of seven organizations in exile.

Khin Ohmar, of the FDB, was banned from attending the Asean summit in Thailand last month, along with a Cambodian activist.

The current campaign aims to collect a symbolic 888,888 signatures on a petition for the release of Burma’s political prisoners. The petition will be circulated in Thailand, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.

In Thailand, the launch was held at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok and Chiang Mai University’s International Center.

Friday was chosen for the launch because March 13 was proclaimed Burma’s Human Rights Day by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other leading dissidents to mark the anniversary of the deaths of activists Phone Maw and Soe Naing in clashes with police in 1988.

The petition calling for the release of political prisoners will be circulated until May 24, the day that Suu Kyi should be released from her current term of house arrest under Burmese law. It will be sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,

The UN General Assembly has been urging the release of Burma’s political prisoners for more than a decade.

AAPP Secretary Tate Naing said at Friday’s launch that the 2010 election would be meaningless if political prisoners were still behind bars on polling day.

“The release of political prisoners is number 1 priority for national reconciliation and democratization in the country,” he said.

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