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ILO condemns May Day activists' appeal denial

Jul 11, 2008 (DVB), The International Labour Organisation has spoken out against the Burmese Supreme Court's decision to deny the appeal of six activists against their lengthy prison sentences.

In a statement issued today, the ILO said the court's rejection of the appeal was "extremely disappointing" and ran counter to the government's obligations under the ILO convention on freedom of association.

Thurein Aung, Wai Linn, Nyi Nyi Zaw, Kyaw Kyaw, Kyaw Min and Myo Min were sentenced to between 20 and 28 years' imprisonment after attending May Day celebrations at the American Centre in Rangoon in 2007.

Kari Tapiola, the ILO executive director for standards and fundamental principles and rights at work, told DVB the organisation had released the statement to highlight its concern about the issue.

"We wanted to express our disappointment, because their release has been called for by the [ILO] Governing Body and the conference, and by the Committee on Freedom of Association," Tapiola said.

"So we just wanted to remind the government that this issue is not going to go away, that this is a problem and that their imprisonment is against the freedom of association convention which Burma has ratified."

Tapiola said the ILO has raised the issue of these activists with the government on several occasion and was optimistic when they were granted the right to appeal.

"As we saw it, there was a possibility of having them released, but that did not take place so we are disappointed and this is why we are asking the government to have another look at the issue," he said.

While the ILO has generally been able to pressure for the release of activists directly arrested for their dealings with the organisation, labour activists detained on other pretexts remain behind bars.

Tapiola reiterated the ILO's commitment to help ensure that post-cyclone reconstruction is carried out with respect for labour standards and without the use of forced labour, but noted that no complaints of forced labour had so far been submitted to the ILO.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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