The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has urged the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party to assume responsibility for defining what constitutes a “political prisoner” in Burma and to ensure that all prisoners of conscience are released during their term in power.
Tate Naing, the secretary of AAPP, told DVB on Thursday that several NLD MPs and some cabinet members are former political prisoners, and that as such they should seek to resolve the issue.
“Several former political prisoners are from NLD and are now in parliament,” he said. “They should seek to propose a definition for what exactly constitutes a political prisoner. Otherwise, any political activist could be arrested at any time on criminal charges.”
Tate Naing’s comments come a day after Gen. Aung Soe, the deputy minister for home affairs, responded to a question in parliament by MP Kyaw Kyaw from Arakan State, saying that the ministry has no plan to define the term “political prisoner” nor what constitutes a “political offence”.
Aung Soe added that the ministry had discussed the matter with MPs, as well as representatives of civil society organisations and several political parties, but had failed to conclude an agreed definition for prisoners of conscience in lawmaking terms.
Upper House MP Kyaw Kyaw quoted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi saying that even “one prisoner of conscience is one too many,” when she was opposition leader.
“The president and home affairs minister need to negotiate the political prisoner issue. They [political prisoners] are not enemies of the state. They are part and parcel of this country’s ongoing development process,” he said.
In 2013, the AAPP and Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS) led a workshop with MPs and legal experts, and managed to draft a definition for “political prisoner” at that time.
According to the draft, the term “political prisoner” would include “anyone arrested, detained or imprisoned for their direct or indirect activities to promote freedom, equality, human rights and the rights of the citizens, including ethnic minorities, as well as for involvement in anti-government protests.”
It added that if a person was arrested and imprisoned because “he or she thinks that governmental decisions or performances do not meet the public interest or satisfaction … this person could also be defined as a political prisoner.”
The current NLD-led government has to date released 2,416 prisoners in amnesties, says AAPP. Of that number, just 73 were political prisoners, it said.
AAPP has also proposed a draft legislation that would entitle former political prisoners to free treatment if they are suffering from ill health.
Read more about political prisoners in Burma