Apr 3, 2008 (AFP), The United States on Wednesday condemned Burma for new arrests of political activists, which it said contributes to a "climate of fear and repression" ahead of a referendum on the constitution.
"We condemn the Burmese regime’s continued arrests and attacks on peaceful political activists," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.
"These blatant human rights abuses contribute to the climate of fear and repression in Burma as the regime prepares to conduct a referendum on its draft constitution," he added.
He said the military junta over the weekend arrested five Muslim community leaders in Rakhine state for peaceful political activities, as well as six young activists who had joined a peaceful rally against the draft constitution.
Democracy and human rights activists in the capital Rangoon were "assaulted and beaten with sticks" on two separate occasions in the last two weeks, McCormack added.
A Thailand-based watchdog group said the junta has arrested and imprisoned at least 52 activists since January — most of them members of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
McCormack renewed calls for Burma to free all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and begin a genuine dialogue with the opposition and minorities "leading to a transition to democracy."
His statement said the junta was going ahead with its planned referendum, even though Burma’s democratic forces had "made clear their opposition to the unjust process" aimed at imposing the junta’s unpublished draft constitution.
The junta’s actions "undercut any claim that this referendum will be free and fair," the statement said.
In September, Buddhist monks led the biggest anti-government protests seen in Rangoon in nearly 20 years.
The military regime violently suppressed the movement by opening fire on crowds and beating people in the streets, while more than 3,000 people were arrested during the crackdown.
The junta says most have now been released, but Amnesty International and the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners say that 700 people remain behind bars, while 40 have been sentenced to prison terms.
Even before the crackdown, Burma was holding about 1,150 political prisoners, the most famous being Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.
She led the NLD to a landslide victory in 1990 elections, but the military never recognized the result.