United States’ Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act to sail through ?

On July 10, senator Edward J. Markey (Democrat � Massachusetts) and Marsha Blackburn (Republican � Tennessee) introduced legislation bill prioritizing the release of political prisoners in Burma or Myanmar, which requires the US secretary of state to take further action to end detaining of political prisoners and promote free expression.

The move was welcome by Amnesty International (AI) and its Asia-pacific advocacy manager Francisco Bencosme said: AI supports the draft legislation heartily. We believe its protection and support of Burma’s political prisoners’ draft is an important issue. Because it highlights the problems of political prisoners, according to the VOA Burmese section report of July 16.

The bill was first introduced under the Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act (BPPAA, H.R. 2327) on April 15, 2019, by congressman Andy Levin (democrat) and congresswoman Ann Wagner (republican).

The follow-up of the bill by senator Markley and Blackburn on July 10 introduced bipartisan legislation that advocates for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Burma. Despite a campaign pledge that the National League for Democracy (NLD) would not arrest anyone as political prisoners, it has failed to fulfill this promise since its historic electoral victory in the 2015 parliamentary elections, according to senator Markley’s website.

Markley, who is also ranking member of the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed out not to forget the broader challenges to freedom of expression, while the U.S. and its international partners are rightfully focusing the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.

Burma’s democratic transition can only be successful if people can have the basic human right to peacefully express their views without fear of arrest, detention, or worse. This legislation will make sure that the U.S. government has the tools and policies necessary to maintain our commitment to the democratic aspirations of the people of Burma, he added.

The people of Burma have long suffered human rights violations, said senator Blackburn. It is imperative that we have clarity on the state of free speech, a free press, and the right to peaceful assembly. The U.S. Congress strongly condemns the exploitation of child soldiers and the continued internment of prisoners of conscience. Supporting democracy and human rights in Burma promotes peace and stability in the country, region, and worldwide.

During its three years in power, the NLD government has provided pardons for Burma’s political prisoners on six occasions. Soon after assuming office in April 2016, former president Htin Kyaw and state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi took steps to secure the release of nearly 235 political prisoners. On May 23, 2017, former president Htin Kyaw granted pardons to 259 prisoners, including 89 political prisoners. On April 17, 2018, current president Win Myint pardoned 8,541 prisoners, including 36 political prisoners. In April and May 2019, he pardoned more than 23,000 prisoners, of which the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) {AAPP(B)} considered 20 as political prisoners, according to Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Policy, updated on May 17, 2019.

The latest report of AAPP(B) for June 2019 stated: individually oppressed due to political activities 466; currently serving prison sentences 34; awaiting trail inside prison 161; and awaiting trail outside prison 271.

While high profile case of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo arrested in 2017 in relation to their reporting on the massacre of ten Rohingya men in the village of Inn Din in Rakhine or Arakan state and now already released as part of a mass pardon by president Win Myint in May 2019, another well known child soldier case of Aung Ko Htwe because he gave a media interview in which he described his experience as a child soldier, arrested on August 18, 2017, is still lingering in jail. He was charged under Section 505(b) of Burma’s Penal Code. He faces up to two-and-a-half years in jail from the date of his conviction.

One of the recent case affecting freedom of expression is the Yangon government suing of 7 university students that have gathered on the occasion of 57th memorial anniversary of 7th July 1962, in which hundreds of students were killed by the Revolutionary Council military government. They are reportedly charged with going against Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, allegedly gathering for political purpose without permission.

The most latest case is, however, the Unlawful Associations Act, which involved 7 expatriate Arakanese deported from Singapore due to the request of the Myanmar government. The now in custody political prisoners involved Arakan Army (AA) leader’s own younger brother and to date the whereabouts of the detainees are unknown.

Earlier in the week, on the same charge, AA spokesman Khaing Thuka’s brother-in-law, together with the other two were arrested in Arakan state.

Laws used to arrest alleged to be against rule of law

Frequently used laws to sue or arrest those who the government and military think are against them for any reason are: the Unlawful Associations Act of 1908�Section 17(1) and Section 17(2); the Telecommunications Law of 2013�Section 66(d); the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act of 2011 (as amended in 2016); and Sections 505(a) and 505(b) of the Penal Code.

Outlook

With the recently imposed visa sanctions on four top generals of the Myanmar Army, which included commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s Armed Forces Min Aung Hlaing, deputy commander-in-chief Soe Win, brigadier general Than Oo, brigadier general Aung Aung and their families, the draft legislation of Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act is also likely to sail through without problem, even though Myanmar is not high on the U.S. foreign relation agenda.

But from Myanmar and particularly from the point of the military although personally barring the Myanmar generals from entering the US could be just ignored as being unimportant, the lost of dignity in the international arena is quite tremendous, adding more insult to the injury, to its already tattered image due to the international accusation of human rights violations.

One Myanmar political observer likened it to have been included in the world wanted list of bad people or criminals, which is not far from the mark.

Whatever the case, the civilian portion regime of NLD which is now seen as being an abettor of the military, especially in the case of crushing the AA in Arakan state, will now have to think on how to get out of this pit of international condemnation and projected growing sanctions. Moreover, the hybrid civilian-military government should now realize that the country downgrading from low hanging fruits to even a much lower status, in relation to the giant regional power, readjusting and rethinking its priority-setting are badly needed to navigate back the country into mainstream political waters internationally.

SOURCE: THE SHAN HERALD AGENCY FOR NEWS