Politician-led prisoner demo blocked

Coordinated protests for the release of political prisoners in Burma were blocked by authorities last week after they claimed organisers had not been given approval by the government.

Three separate demonstrations were due to be held on 5 June in Rangoon led by Nay Myo Wei, general secretary of the Peace and Diversity Party. But the November 2010 election hopeful was summoned to a local police station three days before and told the event would not be allowed.

The Burmese government tightly monitors any political organising, but Nay Myo Wei claims that police acknowledged protests were a “fundamental right”, as enshrined in the Burmese constitution. Their reasoning, however, was that amendments needed to be done to the new government and parliaments before such rights were brought into practice.

Several members of other parties, including the Democratic Party Myanmar and the National Democratic Force, signed the original letter requesting permission to stage the protests. The parties would now raise the ban in parliament.

The issue of the nearly 2,100 political prisoners behind bars remains an albatross around the neck of the Burmese government, whose amnesty last month was criticised after it commuted the sentences of only 55 jailed activists and politicians.

It remains unclear whether the government will follow through on its pledge to soften its stance on protests – during the 2007 monk-led uprising, gatherings of more than five people in public places were banned, a rule that is yet to be formally rescinded.

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