National and international NGOs have issued a joint statement calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners, to mark the third anniversary of the death of National League for Democracy stalwart, U Win Tin, who spent nearly 20 years in prison for his political beliefs.
The 22 NGOs also called for the establishment of an “independent and effective” prisoner review mechanism to bring about an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions in Myanmar.
The creation of such a mechanism would be an important step to addressing the decades-long problem of political imprisonment in the country, said the NGOs.
“One year after the NLD-led government took power, and despite a series of prisoner releases, there are still scores of people behind bars as a result of politically motivated arrest and imprisonment,” their joint statement said.
“Repressive laws which arbitrarily restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remain in place, and authorities continue to use them to intimidate, arrest and jail human rights defenders, other peaceful activists, and members of ethnic minorities,” it said.
“In addition, the civilian-led government has yet to take effective action to address the country’s long history of politically motivated arrest, detention and imprisonment.”
The statement called for the proposed review mechanism to have a clear mandate and procedures to address both short and long-term issues “relating to spurious politically-motivated” prosecutions.
It noted that United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, has recommended that the government undertake by October this year “a comprehensive review of all cases, based on broad and public consultations with all relevant stakeholders in view of discrepancies in the number of remaining political prisoners”.
Win Tin, a co-founder of the NLD who was jailed from 1988 to 2008 and was one of the country’s longest serving political prisoners, died on April 21, 2014, aged 84.
He once famously pledged to wear a blue shirt, the same colour as those worn in jail, until all political prisoners were freed.
“On April 21, people around the world will be wearing a blue shirt or blue clothing in solidarity with U Win Tin’s call, which is unfortunately still relevant today,” the statement said.
The 22 NGOs that signed the statement included the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), Amnesty International, the Burma Human Rights Network, and groups based in Bangladesh, Belgium, Britain, France, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the Philippines, and the United States.