UNION OF MYANMAR: New government must break vicious cycle of repression and political arrests

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26 Mar 2016
[International Secretariat]

Myanmar’s new government will take office with a historic opportunity to change course on human rights but must break away from the deeply repressive legal framework that for years has fuelled arbitrary arrests and repression, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

“Myanmar’s legal framework reads like a textbook of repression, and authorities have in recent years increasingly used it to silence dissent,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Director.

“To break the vicious cycle of political arrests, the new government must prioritize reforming the legal code to ensure that speaking out is no longer a crime, and it must release all those imprisoned simply for doing so.

Two years of growing repression

The report - based on scores of interviews with human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, and prisoners of conscience and their families - documents how authorities in Myanmar have engaged in a far-reaching crackdown on opponents in the past two years. They have relied on a range of tactics and draconian laws to silence dissent, some new and some dating back to the years of outright military rule before 2011.

A wide range of people – including journalists, human rights defenders, students, and labour and land activists – have been threatened, harassed and jailed for nothing but peacefully speaking their minds. The repression and arrests of activists have continued even since the November 2015 elections.

Amnesty International knows of almost 100 prisoners of conscience behind bars in Myanmar today, while hundreds of other peaceful activists are in detention or waiting for their trials to end.

An opportunity for change?

Members of the NLD party have made encouraging and welcome promises to make human rights a priority when they take office, and the party has a historic opportunity to do so. But the task it is facing is huge.

There are serious questions about the NLD’s ability to change course on human rights, given that Myanmar’s constitution still puts the military in charge of several key institutions. These include the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the Police and the general administration of the country.

Amnesty International calls on the new government to immediately release all prisoners of conscience, to establish a functioning prisoners of conscience committee to review all cases and ensure no peaceful activists are imprisoned, and to amend or repeal all laws used to crack down on human rights.
“The NLD-led government has a golden opportunity to effect human rights change. It is one they must seize with both hands – but to do it they will need the backing of the international community,” said Champa Patel.

24 March 2016

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