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Rights group condemns ongoing repression

Nov 29, 2007 (DVB), Amnesty International has condemned the ongoing arrests of political activists in Burma, two months on from the start of the government's violent crackdown on public demonstrations.

In a statement published yesterday, the international human rights group noted that arrests have continued despite assurances given by Burmese prime minister Thein Sein to United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari that no more people were being arrested in connection with the protests.

The group's Asia-Pacific programme director, Catherine Baber, said the continuing repression should be tackled by the international community.

"Two months after the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, arbitrary arrests continue unabated as part of the Myanmmar government’s systematic suppression of freedom of expression and association, contrary to its claims of a return to normalcy," Baber said.

"Normalcy for the military government may mean a return to systematic and widespread human rights violations away from media attention, but the international community must no longer tolerate this situation," she added.

The statement lists at least 14 people who have been detained since the beginning of November, including monks such as U Gambira, head of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance and an instigator of the September demonstrations, as well as National League for Democracy members, ethnic leaders and human rights activists.

AI called on the Burmese government to release the up to 700 prisoners detained during and since the protests and the 1150 political prisoners who have been held since before the demonstrations began.

"Amnesty International is urgently calling on the government of Myanmar to release all those detained or imprisoned merely for the peaceful exercises of their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, including both long-term and recent prisoners of conscience, and to stop making further arrests," said the statement.

Benjamin Zawaki, an AI spokesperson, told DVB that the group had released the statement to highlight the discrepancy between the government's promises and its actions.

"We're extremely disappointed that the government of Myanmar would give such assurances to the UN privately, to a UN representative, and then to also make those assurances public in various UN fora and then very much go against those promises," he said.

Zawaki said that AI hoped to raise awareness among their membership and the international community of the military regime's continued suppression of political activists.

"The most we can do, at least for now, is to keep these arrests in the public eye, put them on the public record as we've tried to do through this press release," Zawaki said.

"We're calling on our membership and others to keep the pressure themselves on the government of Myanmar, and to remind them that they have given certain promises, certain assurances and that they have not kept those claims," he said.

"The more pressure we can exert on the government perhaps the more they will consider releasing these detainees and not making further arrests."

An official from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said that 669 people were listed as in detention in the records as of 22 November.

However, the official said that at least ten more people had been arrested this week, and the true total figure could be as high as 1000.

Contrary to government estimates given to Pinheiro that only 92 people remained in detention in connection with the protests, AAPP said that 94 were being held in one special ward of Insein prison alone.

Bo Kyi from AAPP also criticised the government's failure to follow through on their assurances.

"Even though the Burmese government promised no more arrests, at the same time they arrested U Gambira; that shows they are hypocrites," he said, citing the arrests on 27 November of three more activists in Rangoon as further evidence.

Reporting by Aye Aye Mon and DVB


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