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Political activists still jailed in Burma, amnesty announcement notwithstanding

This story combines two articles originally published on mizzima.org on 7 October and 8 October 2014.

Myanmar continues to have 80 activists jailed and 130 activists currently awaiting trial despite the claims of the Nay Pyi Taw government that there are virtually no more political prisoners incarcerated.

This is the message from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit human rights group, which released their latest tally of prisoners for September on October 6, 2014. It includes a reminder that political activists are typically jailed under criminal laws or Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act – protesting without permission - that continues to account for a large number of these arrests and incarcerations.

In September, AAPP documented the sentencing of 11 political activists, the indictment of 13 individuals, including two detained, and the release of two political prisoners.

The Thailand-based AAPP expressed concern in their latest press release over the comments of U Aung Thein, deputy minister in the President's Office and secretary of the Verification Committee for the Release of Remaining Political Prisoners, who was quoted by the media as stating that the committee may be disbanded as there are almost no remaining political prisoners.

U Aung Thein argued that those that do remain are incarcerated under criminal offences, AAPP points out.

Issues concerning media freedom in Myanmar persist, according to the AAPP, noting that the Government has decided to bring defamation charges against two publications in Myanmar, after negotiations through the Interim Press Council failed to resolve the disputes.

AAPP also notes that the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) submitted a proposal to the government urging them to sign the International Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Covenant and the Civil and Political Rights Covenant.

Amnesty says prisoner release 'empty gesture' as repression continues

Amnesty International says the release of some 3,000 prisoners by Myanmar is essentially an empty political gesture as scores of peaceful activists are believed to remain behind bars.

The Myanmar authorities announced on October 7 that the prisoners would be released in an amnesty, but none of the country's prisoners of conscience - activists detained solely for peacefully expressing their views - will be included in the release, notes the human rights organization.

"This is nothing but an empty gesture on the authorities' part," said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific Director in a press release. "The timing, so close to the ASEAN summit in Myanmar in early November, smacks of political opportunism."

He said that if the authorities were genuine about improving respect for human rights, they would follow through on the long-standing promise to clear the country's jails of the dozens of peaceful activists.

According to the human rights group, Myanmar's repressive laws continue to silence dissent and to target those who peacefully oppose the government.

"We are still receiving reports of human rights defenders, land rights activists, journalists, political activists and others being imprisoned for nothing more than expressing their opinions," Mr Bennett said. "As long as these detentions continue, amnesties like the one [October 7] do nothing to improve Myanmar's human rights situation."

Amnesty says that among the new prisoners of conscience in Myanmar in 2014 is Ko Htin Kyaw, the leader of community-based Movement for Democracy Current Force who is currently serving 11 years and four months in prison for his involvement in a series of peaceful protests and for making speeches and distributing leaflets critical of the government.

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