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Myanmar Government Attacks on Freedoms Compromise Election, Says Amnesty International

WASHINGTON - The Myanmar government’s
attacks on the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association
compromises the country’s first elections in 20 years, Amnesty International
said today.  

“These elections presented an opportunity for Myanmar to make meaningful
human rights changes on its own terms—and with the world watching,” said
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general.  “Instead,
throughout the run up to the polls, the government has attacked the rights
necessary for holding meaningful elections.”

The Myanmar authorities have introduced several
new laws and directives in the run up to the November 7 elections, restricting
free speech and criticism of the government, prohibiting political parties
from boycotting the elections, and cracking down on internal calls for
the release of the estimated 2,200 political prisoners in the country.

Since March this year, when the government enacted restrictive and repressive
Electoral Laws, it has routinely violated the freedoms of expression, peaceful
assembly, and association.  Recent violations include:

* On September 14, the Election Commission
issued a notice outlining strict restrictions on campaign speeches to be
broadcast on state media, including vaguely worded provisions that effectively
ban criticism of the government or any mention of the country’s problems,
particularly ethnic issues.

* On September 18, the government warned Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National
League for Democracy party—winners of the 1990 elections—of penalties
for encouraging an election boycott.  

* On September 27, authorities sentenced Ashin Okkanta, an ethnic Mon monk,
to 15 years’ imprisonment for possessing leaflets calling for the release
all political prisoners in Myanmar.

* In the final two weeks of September, the authorities arrested 11 students,
at least nine of whom remain in detention, in Yangon for handing out leaflets
urging people not to vote.  

“Myanmar continues to hold more than 2,200 political prisoners exposes
the government’s contempt for human rights in these elections,” said
Shetty. “Their self-described ‘Roadmap to Democracy’, of which these
elections are meant to be a significant part, seems to lead only to continuing
political repression.”


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The Myanmar government maintains that it is not holding any political prisoners,
despite the highly critical report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the
situation of human rights in Myanmar released on September 15, 2010.  

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won Myanmar’s
last polls in 1990 has spent nearly 15 of the past 21 years in detention.

The Myanmar government has also recently denied allegations of serious
human rights violations in the country’s ethnic minority regions in the
run-up to the polls, including attacks targeting civilians in the army’s
ongoing counter-insurgency efforts.  In 2008 Amnesty International
found that such attacks amounted to crimes against humanity.  Amnesty
International has called on the United Nations to establish a Commission
of Inquiry into the serious human rights violations in Myanmar.

“Myanmar’s record of human rights violations has threatened the stability
of the country and the region, and it’s time for the United Nations, as
well as Myanmar’s neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN), to say enough is enough,” said Shetty.  “The sham nature
of these elections should convince even China and India—which have been
supportive of Myanmar’s military government—to side with the people of
the country instead.”

The elections are being held against a backdrop of political repression
and systematic violence that has continued since tens of thousands of protesters—led
by Buddhist monks—took to the streets in August and September 2007, demanding
economic and political reforms.  The peaceful country-wide demonstrations
were violently put down by the authorities, resulting in at least 31 (and
possibly more than a hundred) people killed and many more injured, and
at least 74 people disappeared and thousands detained.

“Denying the existence of political prisoners and the occurrence of serious
international crimes will not make them disappear,” said Shetty. “Only
by releasing the prisoners and holding perpetrators of such crimes accountable
can the government begin to adequately address these persistent human rights
challenges.  Holding elections is not enough.”

Regardless of the election results, Amnesty International calls on ASEAN,
and Myanmar’s other Asian neighbors, to demand the release of political
prisoners and to make a Commission of Inquiry a reality in Myanmar.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning
grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters,
activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human
rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates
and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice,
freedom, truth and dignity are denied.


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