British govt launches innovative Burma campaign

Dec 11, 2009 (DVB), The British government has teamed up with two prominent rights groups to highlight the story of Burma's political prisoners in a bid to pressure the ruling junta as it prepares for elections next year.

Each week the British foreign and commonwealth office (FCO), in collaboration with Burma Campaign UK (BCUK), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), will tell the story of one of Burma's 2,100 political prisoners.

"It’s a sobering thought that there are so many prisoners of conscience in Burma that it would take over forty years to profile them all," the FCO website said.

Foreign office minister Ivan Lewis said in a statement that the intention is to make country's detained activists, lawyers, journalists and religious figures "more than a number. Elections in Burma will have no credibility or legitimacy until these prisoners are released."

Burma's most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also the world's only imprisoned Nobel laureate, recently marked her fourteenth year under house arrest.

The wife of the Burmese-born US citizen, Kyaw Zaw Lwin, a former activist who is currently standing trial on spurious charges of fraud, today demanded that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon taken action to free Burma's political prisoners.

The deputy head at the FCO's Southeast Asia division, Gill Lever, told DVB that the campaign's use of digital media, such as Facebook and Twitter, will take it to an international level.

"In some areas of the world the Burma issue will have greater resonance than others, so our particular emphasis is on Europe and the Asia-Pacific area; the countries of influence in Burma's region," she said.

"This is particularly resonant now with the elections coming up in Burma next year, and with the EU and UN calling for the release of all political prisoners."

Out of the 2,173 political prisoners in the country's 44 prisons, 178 are women, 251 are monks and 21 are cyclone relief workers, and 12 are lawyers, according to AAPP. Around 130 are thought to be in poor health.

"We also feel that part of the narrative on Burma is the waste of human potential and talent, and how much more successful Burma would be if the talented people and people who have got things to bring to Burma were released," said Lever.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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