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Suu Kyi's release spotlights sham election, remaining political prisoners

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to the press inside National League for Democracy party headquarters on 14 November, the day after she was released
Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to the press inside National League for Democracy party headquarters on 14 November, the day after she was released

Mizzima News

Nearly eight years after being detained, Burma's most famous activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been freed. But her release comes just days after the Burmese junta declared victory in the country's sham elections, and when more than 2,000 other political prisoners remain locked up. IFEX members around the world that have been vigorously campaigning for Suu Kyi - Mizzima News, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), PEN International's Writers In Prison Committee (WiPC), Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19, to name just a few - welcomed her release as the "first step" for freedom for Burma.

On 13 November, the military government released Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, honorary PEN member and ARTICLE 19 board member. She has been under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years. "Suu Kyi has been in a revolving door from detention to freedom for more than 20 years, so the real question is how long she will be free this time and under what conditions," pondered Human Rights Watch.

"Her release now is a deeply cynical ploy by the military government to distract the international community from its illegitimate elections."

The 7 November elections that cemented the rule of the Burmese junta were "not credible," says Human Rights Watch. Burma was closed off to observers, and poll fraud and vote rigging, particularly from ethnic areas, were widespread. According to ARTICLE 19, thousands of Burmese fled to neighbouring Thailand to escape the resulting violence.

Full results from the elections - the first in 20 years - have yet to be released, but figures so far give the military-backed party the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) a solid majority in both houses of parliament.

IFEX members say that now Suu Kyi is free, the focus should turn to the release of other leading rights defenders and political prisoners still in jail. There's Zarganar, Burma's beloved comedian and poet, who is serving a 35-year sentence for criticising the military government's slow response to Cyclone Nargis.

To mark 10 December, International Human Rights Day, Amnesty International and PEN Canada have organised a massive letter-writing campaign to demand freedom for Zarganar. Click here to join it:

The day after her release, Suu Kyi announced to her supporters at the headquarters of her party the National League for Democracy (NLD) that she would continue to fight for human rights, free expression and the rule of law. How much she can accomplish remains to be seen as the NLD has officially been dissolved.

"Today [13 November] she has been freed. But tomorrow, we must once again confront, demand, remind, and campaign. For let there be no doubt about it, this major step must be a first step only. It has to be followed by many more," said ARTICLE 19.

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  • Suu Kyi release spotlights remaining political prisoners, says Human Rights Watch

    Aung San Suu's Kyi's release comes soon after the 7 November elections in Burma that the ruling junta designed to entrench military rule with a civilian façade.

  • Rights abuses surge ahead of historic election

    On 7 November, the Burmese people will go to nationwide polls for the first time in 20 years. But contesting political parties will have seldom been seen or heard of in the state media. Independent websites have already been censored, and foreign journalists will not be allowed to cover the spectacle. Thirty-three IFEX members, including Mizzima News and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), are lobbying the governments of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting this week in Hanoi to put pressure on Burma to respect free expression - essential if the elections are to be seen as credible, they say.

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