mar 11 2009

Signatures Wanted to Free Political Prisoners

source : The Irrawady

By MIN LWIN

Two Thailand-based rights groups, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners—Burma (AAPP) and the Forum for Democracy in Burma, are on Friday launching a global campaign to mark Burmese Human Rights Day.

Called the “Free Burma’s Political Prisoners Now” campaign, the organizers’ committee said it aims to collect signatures for a petition calling for the release of political prisoners in Burma, and hopes to collect 888,888 signatures by May 24, the date when Aung San Suu Kyi is due to be released from house arrest.

“Our main reason for the campaign is to raise awareness among the international community about the plight of political prisoners in the country and to put more pressure on the Burmese military government,” said Tate Naing, the secretary of AAPP.

“The release of all political prisoners is the essential first step toward democracy and national reconciliation in Burma,” he added.

The campaign pamphlet explains that there are currently over 2,100 political prisoners languishing in Burmese prisons and that they have all been jailed because they chose to work for democracy and human rights.

“Political prisoners have not committed more crimes than that of expressing their political believes either through word or through action,” Aung San Suu Kyi was quoted as saying in the campaign pamphlet.

“Some of our political prisoners were arrested on grounds other than those associated [with] political activities, but we all knew that the real reason [for] their imprisonment was their political affiliation.”

Suu Kyi is the general secretary of the opposition National League for Democracy and has been under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years. She remains the only Nobel Peace Prize winner behind bars.

Another political prisoner is Mya Aye, who held a 45th birthday party for himself on Tuesday in Loikaw Prison in Karenni State.

Mya Aye is serving a 65-year sentence for his involvement in political activities. He was arrested on August 21, 2007, at his home along with 12 other activists, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Htay Win Aung, Min Zeya and Kyaw Min Yu (aka Jimmy), after leading a march on August 19 against sharp increases in the price of fuel and other commodities.

Mya Aye graduated from Rangoon University and was one of the leaders of the Graduated Old Student Democratic Association (GOSDA) during the 1989 pro-democracy uprising. He was arrested for the first time on June 20, 1989, for his role as a prominent protest leader. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, but was released in 1996.

Speaking on a video file recently, Mya Aye’s daughter, Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, said, “When I was five months old, my father was jailed for eight years for being involved in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. I was four years old when I first met him. But he was behind iron bars, so I didn’t get a chance to embrace him.”

After he was released in 1996, Mya Aye continued his political activities for the restoration of freedom, democracy and human rights in Burma, she said.

“The prison authorities tortured him every way: with electricity, sexual harassment and abuse,” Wai Hnin Pwint Thon said.

“As I got older, I realized why he was in prison,” she said. “I admired his sacrifice for his country and his people. I think he is very brave person.”