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Burmese political prisoner count ‘doubled’ since 2007

Sept 16, 2009 (DVB), The number of political prisoners in Burma has more than doubled in the past two years, according to a report published by a New York-based rights group.

Unless the 2,200 political prisoners are released soon, the elections scheduled for March 2010 will hold no credibility, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), who today released 'Burma's Forgotten Prisoners'.

The 35-page reports documents dozens of activists, monks and journalists who have been imprisoned since the September 2007 monk-led uprising.

"Burma’s generals are planning elections next year that will be a sham if their opponents are in prison," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

"Despite recent conciliatory visits by [United Nations] and foreign officials, the military government is actually increasing the number of critics it is throwing into its squalid prisons."

The report coincides with the start of HRW's '2100 for 2010' campaign, which aims to pressure the ruling junta into releasing all political prisoners by 2010.

"We named the campaign '2100 by 2010′ in July – but since then, the number has grown to approximately 2250," said Malinowski.

"The United States, China, India, and Burma’s neighbors in Southeast Asia should make the release of all political prisoners a central goal of their engagement with Burma, and use every tool of influence and leverage they have to achieve it."

Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was in August sentenced to a further 18 months under house arrest in a move widely seen by critics of the junta as a ploy to keep her in detention during the elections.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party is yet to announce whether they will run in the elections, which many see as a foregone conclusion given that the redrafted 2008 constitution appears to guarantee continuation of military rule.

According to the constitution, even prior to voting at least 25 percent of parliamentary seats will be awarded to military generals.

A constitutional clause also bars Suu Kyi from running for office, were she to be released, because she was married to a foreigner.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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