Myanmar State Counsellor’s office criticised for narrow definition of ‘political prisoner’
NAYPYITAW (Eleven Media Group/ANN) - Groups representing political prisoners criticised the minister for the State Counsellor’s Office statement, saying it implies that people who were imprisoned for political activities for violating other laws are not recognised as political prisoners.
Myanmar minister for the State Counsellor’s Office said this week that only detainees who are prosecuted legally for their involvement in demonstrations will be recognised as political prisoners. Groups working to protect the rights of political prisoners have strongly condemned the minister’s statement.
Union Minister Kyaw Tint Swe said, “We are supporting the goodwill and the instruction of the State Counsellor in order to eliminate political prisoners under the democratic government. There may be many differences regarding [between definitions of] a political prisoner according to the data of unofficial organisations. We define it, according to the policy of the State Counsellor, as only those who faced legal prosecution in line with the law for taking part in demonstrations.
Groups representing political prisoners criticised the minister’s definitions, saying it implies that people who were imprisoned for political activities for violating other laws are not recognised as political prisoners.
Tin Maung Oo, an initiative committee member within the Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS), said, “The scope of defining a political prisoner as one who takes part in independent demonstration is narrow. As a matter of fact, the previous government imprisoned political activists – even those who did not demonstrate – using the Penal Code. They also are the political prisoners. However, now [the State Counsellor’s Office] neglects them. We strongly condemn this [definition], and we don’t believe it is what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wants.”
He said the FPPS will send letter to the State Counsellor’s Office to request the opinion of Suu Kyi.
Tin Maung Oo continued: “Farmers were charged under sections 447 and 427, and workers were charged under other sections. If the Section 505(B) (libel against the state) is not the section for political activity, then what sections outlaw political offences?”
Aung Myo Kyaw, the spokesperson of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), said: “It is very clear what we have defined. We defined those who were imprisoned for their political activities under the previous government as political prisoners. We don’t care under which section they were imprisoned because political activists, [including] the elected MPs of the 1990 election, were imprisoned under various sections. They were all political prisoners. What is more, there are many who are still imprisoned for political activities. Worse of all, [the minister for the State Counsellor’s Office] claimed to represent the opinion of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We have the right to question whether these are really the words of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or not.”
Kyaw Tint Swe, the minister for the State Councillor’s Office, was the Myanmar ambassador to the United Nations under the previous government.
A workshop held in August 2014 by the AAPP, the FPPS, the National League for Democracy, 88 Generation Peace and Open Society and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy announced their definition of political prisoner.
According to the definition, those who expressed, supported, demanded or demonstrated for freedom, equality, fairness or human rights or ethnic rights, directly or indirectly and who were imprisoned, prosecuted, charged, detained or sued under political sections or civil laws for those actions, are defined as political prisoners. Those who participated in such movements by writing, giving speeches, demonstrating or condemning the policies and actions of the government or the state are also defined political prisoners.
There are 67 political prisoners still in prisons and 189 on trial for political activities in Myanmar as of May 2016, according to data collected based on the above definition, according to the AAPP.