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The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is calling on the Burmese government to recognise whistleblowers as political prisoners following a pledge from President Thein Sein last week to free all of Burma’s prisoners of conscience by the end of the year.
In a press statement published on Friday, AHRC said military officials and staff from the country’s foreign affairs ministry staff, who were incarcerated for leaking information about the former junta’s relations with North Korea, should be officially declared as political prisoners before the next presidential amnesty.
The organisation called on the government to the review the cases of five individuals that AHRC claims are whistleblowers, including Win Naing Kyaw who was handed a death sentence for leaking information about top-level Burmese military visits to Russia and North Korea.
Ministry of Home Affairs staff Thura Kyaw and Byan Sein, who were jailed under the 1950 Emergency Provision Act for leaking photos and official documents from the then-military joint-chief of staff Thura Shwe Mann’s visit to North Korea in 2009, were also listed in AHRC’s statement.
The group also called for Burma to review the case of Muslim community leader Dr Tun Aung, who was accused of inciting religious riots in Arakan state last year after he reported news about the first round of sectarian violence.
Lawyers say they have lobbied the government-backed committee charged with verifying all remaining political prisoners to review the five cases, but without success.
“We learnt that Thura Shwe Mann himself, during a visit with US President Obama and in meetings with EU governments, promised to not continue the nuclear project with North Korea and therefore, we are recommending that the [government] consider individuals like Win Naing Kyaw, sentenced on political grounds, for the next amnesty,” said Min Lwin Oo, a Burmese lawyer with AHRC.
Thein Sein made international headlines last week for promising to release all of the country’s remaining political prisoners, but activists say the government has yet to hold transparent consultations with the committee charged with freeing political prisoners.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma, prisoner release lists are compiled in secret by the prison department or president’s office and then passed onto the government-backed committee for endorsement.
“For this mechanism to mean something, it has to be open to scrutiny and government officials involved need to recognise that the weight should fall on the state to prove someone should be held rather than on the families to negotiate a legal maze to prove that the prisoner’s intent was political,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division.
“The fact that government and military whistleblowers have been excluded from the political prisoner listings should also be examined very critically.”
The news comes amid reports that authorities in northern Burma’s Myitkyina arrested ethnic Kachin activist Bawk Ja last week, while Kachin farmer Brang Shawng was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly carrying out a terrorist attack for the Kachin Independence Army.
– David Stout contributed additional reporting