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Forty-nine activists were charged during the month of May, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP).
The AAPP’s monthly report, published on 5 June, said that Burma currently holds 163 political prisoners, adding that 442 non-detained activists are awaiting trial, 49 of whom were charged in May. The report said 41 of the 49 awaiting trial are currently in prison, including a solo demonstrator who has been charged with sedition under Article 505(b) of the Penal Code and is presently detained in Tharawaddy prison.
The report also noted that 32 local residents in Arakan State were detained and indicted under the Unlawful Association Act, Article 17(1), for an alleged connection to the outlawed Arakan Army, which clashed with government forces in the region last month.
AAPP also pointed out that five women who protested against land confiscations in Mandalay were arrested and charged under Article 333 – for disturbing an official on duty.
Four political prisoners – Sai Tin Min Tun, Zaw Thet Aung, Yaza Oo and Nay Myo Zin – are reported to be in poor health.
In mid-2013, President Thein Sein promised to rid Burma’s jails of political prisoners by the end of that year. However, after several presidential pardons and amnesties, the number of activists in detention has steadily increased. In September last year, AAPP noted that there were 84 political prisoners in the country with another 122 facing trial on what were widely believed to be politically motivated charges.
In January 2015, a 28-member Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee was formed by the Burmese government, replacing the 19-member Committee for Scrutinizing the Remaining Prisoners of Conscience formed two years earlier with a mandate to investigate the cases of Burma’s jailed activists.
However, fears have remained high that the committee was just a “smoke screen” that would be unable or unwilling to affect change.
In February, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Richard Bennett said, “This cannot become another toothless committee set up by the government to deflect criticism and create a smokescreen. The stakes are too high: general elections are only months away, and the government’s crackdown on peaceful activists is picking up pace. The government’s claims that Myanmar’s jails are free of prisoners of conscience are false. This committee could, however, affect genuine change – but only if it has a broad mandate, adequate resources, and operates independently.”
Read more about Burma’s political prisoners HERE