Amnesty condemns Myanmar rights record

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most famous former political prisoner, is curiously absent from campaigns to end contemporary human rights abuses. Source: Wikimedia  

Last year Myanmar saw an increasing clampdown on dissenting voices and a failure to reduce religious intolerance, Amnesty International has announced in its annual report.

Amnesty’s report noted numerous human-rights violations committed by Myanmar’s police and soldiers, who “continued to enjoy near-total impunity”.

“Despite the euphoria around the November elections, the situation on the ground in Myanmar is still a very troubling one,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia director.

“Repression of freedom of expression continued to pick up pace in 2015 – almost 100 prisoners of conscience remain behind bars.”

Outgoing President Thein Sein promised to release political prisoners by the end of 2013 but 2015 saw the arrest and trial of many peaceful protesters.

Numerous peaceful student protesters have been held in Bago Region’s Thayarwady Prison for nearly a year after being dragged into custody after a violent crackdown on a protest march against the controversial National Education Law on March 10. “Among them was student leader Phyoe Phyoe Aung, who was facing over nine years’ imprisonment if convicted for her peaceful activities,” Amnesty said.

The report was critical of four new so-called “race and religion” laws passed between May and August last year, sponsored by the Buddhist nationalist Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, known by its Burmese acronym, Ma Ba Tha.

The acts, which place criminal restrictions on adultery, religious conversion, interfaith marriages and conception, were seen as targeting the oppressed Muslim minority.

Amnesty highlighted the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority, who are mostly concentrated in impoverished Rakhine State and often referred to as Bengalis, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. There were arbitrary arrests and torture, Amnesty said.

It also pointed to the mass exodus of 33,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees last year and the fact that Rohingyas lost their right to vote, despite being given the vote in the 2010 election. “Access to Rakhine State for international observers remained severely restricted,” Amnesty noted.

Its report said: “People who spoke out against discrimination and rising religious intolerance faced retaliation from state and non-state actors. On 2 June, writer Htin Lin Oo was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour for ‘insulting religion’ in an October 2014 speech criticising the use of Buddhism to promote discrimination and prejudice. Women’s rights activists and other human rights defenders who spoke out against the four ‘protecting race and religion’ laws were subjected to harassment and intimidation, including sexually abusive threats.”

A prisoner amnesty on July 30 saw the release of 11 prisoners of conscience among the 6,966 prisoners released, many of whom were convicted of serious crimes.