Release of Myanmar Prisoners of Conscience A Positive Step Forward, But More Needs to be Done

Press Release
November 15, 2013

Release of Myanmar Prisoners of Conscience A Positive Step Forward, But More Needs to be Done

Contact: Carol Gregory, cgregory@aiusa.org, 202-675-8759, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - The release of several prisoners of conscience in Myanmar today is a positive step, but time is running out for the government to keep its promise to release everyone imprisoned for peaceful activism by the year's end, Amnesty International said.

Myanmar today announced the release of 69 political prisoners, including several prisoners of conscience.

"Today's release is, of course, welcome, but the fact remains that there are many imprisoned for peaceful activism still behind bars in Myanmar," said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Deputy Director. "President Thein Sein has promised to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year, but time is running out for the government to show that this was not just empty words."

"We continue to receive reports of peaceful activists and human rights defenders being harassed and at risk of imprisonment for nothing but expressing their opinions. This has to end immediately. Otherwise, releases like the one today will be meaningless."

Among those released today is the prominent Karen women human rights activist Naw Ohn Hla, who was sentenced to two years hard labor in August 2013 after peacefully protesting a copper mining project in August 2013. She was given a conditional release.

"Naw Ohn Hla should never have been locked up in the first place, and the fact that she has been given a conditional release and is still facing other charges is not good enough," said Arradon. "She and others like her should be released unconditionally."

During a visit to the United Kingdom in July this year, President Thein Sein announced that by the end of 2013, there would be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar.

However, among those still behind bars are Dr Tun Aung, a Rohingya Muslim serving 17 years in prison for his peaceful activities when trying to halt communal violence last year, and Kyaw Hla Aung, a prominent human rights defender who has been arbitrarily detained since July 15, 2013 and is currently on trial facing a lengthy prison sentence.

"Dr. Tun Aung and Kyaw Hla Aung - along with all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar - must be released immediately," said Arradon. "They are behind bars for nothing but their peaceful activism and the exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Myanmar must ensure that, throughout its transition and beyond, there is space for civil society and for human rights defenders to work free from harassment and threat of criminalization."

Amnesty International activists, members, and supporters continue to speak out and take action for the release of people imprisoned for who they are and what they believe globally.

Every year thousands of participants worldwide write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience and others at risk of human rights violations. On December 5, Amnesty activists, members, and supporters will participate in Write for Rights the largest human rights event in the world that engages people to write, tweet, blog, and speak out on behalf of prisoners of conscience, people jailed because of who they are or their beliefs.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.