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The Myanmar government's reduction of prison terms must be swiftly followed by the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International said today.
The Myanmar government said on Monday it had reduced by one year the sentences of all current prisoners and commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment.
"While the reductions are welcome news for political prisoners, they are astonishingly insufficient," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Myanmar researcher. "These actions fall well short of the comprehensive release of all prisoners of conscience desperately needed in Myanmar."
Amnesty International also called upon Myanmar to go beyond commuting death sentences and join the worldwide trend towards the complete abolition of the death penalty.
While no death row prisoner in Myanmar is known to have been executed since 1988, the death penalty is still in the statute books and death sentences continue to be imposed.
"The commutation of these death sentences is encouraging, but the next move should be to bring about all necessary legislative changes to abolish the death penalty in Myanmar," said Zawacki.
The Myanmar authorities hold over 2,200 political prisoners, many of whom have been subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. They are held in poor conditions in prisons that lack adequate medical treatment and are often located far away from prisoners' families.
The international community has repeatedly called on the Myanmar authorities to release political prisoners, especially in the run-up to the country's first elections in 20 years that took place in November 2010. However, at the January 2011 United Nations Human Rights Council, Myanmar government representatives denied that there were any political prisoners in the country.
"The Myanmar government has for decades used imprisonment to silence peaceful dissent, opting for sentence reductions and selective periodic amnesties as a small concession to international criticism of its human rights record," said Zawacki.
Last week, Mr. Vijay Nambiar, Special Adviser to the U.N. Secretary General, stressed the release of all political prisoners during his first post-elections visit to Myanmar.
Amnesty International also urged Myanmar to take concrete steps toward guaranteeing basic freedoms.
"The authorities should repeal or amend laws and practices that arbitrarily restrict rights, such as the Electronic Transactions Law that prevents the reporting of views critical of the government, and should ensure that the judiciary is free from political interference and other abuses," said Zawacki.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 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.
Amnesty International is a global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people - no matter who they are or where they are. We are the world's largest grassroots human rights organization.(212) 807-8400
Neither the incumbent nor his main rival has secured the majority of votes needed to avoid a runoff election in two weeks.
Whether Turkey's authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, maintains power remains an open question as officials continue to count votes following Sunday's presidential and parliamentary elections.
Tens of millions of people cast ballots in the pivotal election before polls closed at 5:00 pm local time. Preliminary results indicate that Erdoğan of the right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) holds a dwindling lead over Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who heads the center-left Republican People's Party (CHP) and is the joint candidate of a six-party opposition coalition.
The state-run Anadolu news agency reports that Erdoğan is beating Kılıçdaroğlu by a margin of 49.56% to 44.71% with nearly 95% of votes counted. The private Anka news agency, meanwhile, reports that Erdoğan is ahead of Kılıçdaroğlu, 49.24% to 45.04%, with just over 98% of votes counted. Two other candidates have garnered support from a small percentage of voters.
As expected, the incumbent jumped out to an early lead as votes in his conservative central heartland were among the first counted, but his main challenger has gained ground as the tally proceeds in big cities and coastal areas. It may take up to three days for official results to be confirmed. If no candidate wins over 50% of first-round ballots, the top two vote-getters will compete again in a head-to-head runoff scheduled for May 28. Both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu's camps have acknowledged that this is an increasingly likely outcome.
Muharrem İnce, a former CHP member who dropped out of the contest just days ago, has received roughly 0.4% of the vote. Far-right nationalist candidate Sinan Oğan has secured about 5.3%, making him a potential kingmaker in the event the race goes to a second round.
Reporting of the results has proven controversial. Earlier on Sunday evening, when it was reported that Erdoğan had a substantial lead, opposition figures accused state-run media of deceiving the public and claimed that Kılıçdaroğlu is winning.
"Anadolu Agency is doing its traditional manipulation for the last time," said CHP spokesperson Faik Oztrak. "We ask our citizens to follow our statements."
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a CHP member who took office in 2019, also slammed the outlet. Citing similar actions in past elections, he said: "We are experiencing another Anadolu Agency case. The agency's reputation is below zero. They should not be trusted. Anadolu's data is null and void."
Imamoglu was echoed by Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas, another CHP member elected in 2019, who said: "They mislead our nation by running the ballot boxes that work for them. They do not feel ashamed either. They have no credibility... According to the data we have, our President Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is ahead."
Omer Celik, a spokesperson for the ruling AKP rebuked the opposition for criticizing Anadolu.
According to Progressive International: "AKP has challenged many votes in precincts where they are trailing all over the country. If these challenges are unfounded, it will delay the counting process several hours. This means we could see a late surge for opposition parties."
The group, which sent an election observation delegation to Turkey, sounded the alarm about possible dirty tricks being carried out on behalf of Erdoğan.
\u201cURGENT \ud83c\uddf9\ud83c\uddf7: The @ProgIntl electoral observers urge patience until every vote is counted. We are alarmed that the Supreme Election Council\u2019s website is down, reporting has slowed in regions with opposition support, and allegations of final result manipulation continue to grow.\u201d— Progressive International (@Progressive International) 1684091486
\u201c\ud83c\uddf9\ud83c\uddf7 In the Kurdish city Diyarbak\u0131r, where the opposition is predicted to receive a high percentage of votes, officials from the Higher Election Council are slowing down the process, and poll workers are waiting for the results to be certified.\n\nhttps://t.co/BZmQZcOTTW\u201d— Progressive International (@Progressive International) 1684093938
According toAl Jazeera correspondent Abdelazeem Mohammed, the election is "most likely heading to a second round."
"The opposition is saying that the ruling alliance... deliberately started the vote count in its strongholds," said Mohammed.
Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from CHP headquarters in Ankara, said the party is feeling "more and more confident" as the additional ballots are tallied and Erdoğan's initial lead shrinks.
"CHP, along with the opposition coalition, is looking forward to increasing numbers in major cities, and that the numbers in Istanbul and Ankara could be [a] strong indication that they are going to go to a runoff," said Ahelbarra.
"In 2022, they put together this coalition from all walks of life with different affiliations," Ahelbarra explained. "The reason why they did this was to consolidate gains because they know that the AKP, with the leadership of Erdoğan for the past 20 years, makes it extremely difficult for them to win the elections."
Speaking from Istanbul, political analyst Cengiz Tomar toldAl Jazeera that "the results so far spell out a great failure for the opposition."
"The results so far do not align at all with the sociological make-up of the Turkish people, where 35% of them are religious, conservative, and on the right, and the remaining 65% are secular and Kurdish," he said.
Ahead of the election, polling data gave Kılıçdaroğlu a slight lead and also suggested that Erdoğan’s governing coalition, led by the AKP, could lose its majority in parliament.
In the run-up to Sunday, however, human rights groups warned that Erdoğan’s right-wing government would "exert considerable control over the digital ecosystem in an effort to undermine the outcome," and there is fresh reporting of "foul play" on the day of the election.
Erdoğan has ruled Turkey for the past two decades, first as prime minister from 2003 to 2014 and as president since 2014. Before he was reelected in 2018, Erdoğan convinced enough Turkish voters to approve constitutional changes that transformed the nation's parliamentary system into a highly centralized presidential regime with few checks and balances.
Erdoğan "fell behind in the polls as voters react to the results of 20 years of his rule, including a brutal economic crisis that caused the lira to devalue by half last year alone and soaring inflation," The Guardianreported Sunday. "Criticism of his government increased after a slow and patchy state response to deadly twin earthquakes in the country's southeast that killed more than 50,000 people and destroyed homes and infrastructure across 11 provinces."
Progressives have argued that a Kılıçdaroğlu victory is necessary to revive Turkey's economy, restore its democracy, and protect women's rights, among other goals.
"If we don't act now, it will be too late," one mom warned. "I could not live with myself, as a mother, as a doctor, and as a human being, if we didn't do all we can to try and bring about the much-needed systemic change."
From Australia to Zimbabwe, mothers on Saturday peacefully occupied public spaces and called for urgent societal transformation to avert the worst impacts of the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.
Joined by loved ones on the eve of Mother's Day, moms across the globe sat down in protest circles, where they highlighted the deadly consequences of the status quo and demanded lifesaving climate action.
"With our circles we convey that we refuse to look away, that we refuse to give up, and that we will do everything we can," Mother's Rebellion for Climate Justice said in a statement.
Participants made clear that children and impoverished people who bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis face the most harm, and that failing to fundamentally reform the global political economy threatens to decimate younger and future generations.
"Children are feeling betrayed because they see that governments are not doing enough, or are actively delaying meaningful climate action."
"Children are feeling betrayed because they see that governments are not doing enough, or are actively delaying meaningful climate action," said Marion, a mother and member of Doctors for Extinction Rebellion (Health for XR). "Those that are meant to protect and safeguard them, are ignoring and turning their backs on the children in this country, and on the children in the Global South who are already facing the impacts of a heating climate, as well as the fallout from environmental destruction and exploitation of resources."
"If we don't act now, it will be too late," Marion warned. "I could not live with myself, as a mother, as a doctor, and as a human being, if we didn't do all we can to try and bring about the much-needed systemic change."
Mothers' Rebellion, an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion launched last year in Sweden, describes itself as "a growing global community of women who want to be able to look our children in the eyes and say that we truly do all that we can." Fed up with "the lack of a powerful, transformative response from our politicians and leaders," the alliance "will not give up the fight for a sustainable present and future for the current and coming generations."
On Saturday, moms gathered in more than a dozen countries on every continent except Antarctica to build support for "the necessary changes to keep our planet healthy so that all its inhabitants can thrive," Extinction Rebellion Families (XR Families) explained.
Demonstrations took place in Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, India, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
\u201cGlobal #MothersDay "Mothers Rebellion"! Demands climate action across six continents. \nAll photos c/o @ExtinctionR \nhttps://t.co/yXO3mxm6lc\u201d— Antonia Juhasz (@Antonia Juhasz) 1684079271
"My heart aches when I think about the extreme heatwaves and devastating floods that my relatives in Malaysia have endured over the past few months," said Feng, a mother of two and member of XR Families. "It's not just about my family, but the countless others who are facing the brunt of climate change. That's why I will be at the Mothers' Rebellion, fighting for a livable planet for today’s children and all future generations. We owe it to them to take action now, before it's too late."
Kristine, a mother and member of Health for XR, said that "as healthcare professionals, it is our duty to identify and act on risks to children."
"As a mother and doctor, I cannot sit silently and watch this injustice to children across the world."
"Currently 85% of the burden of climate health impacts is falling on those under 5 years of age," said Kristine. "These health impacts include malnutrition, heat exposure, water scarcity, infectious diseases such as malaria and Lyme disease, and high levels of air pollution causing worsening asthma and childhood cancers."
"I am seeing these devastating impacts on children in my daily work, even in the U.K.," she continued. "As a mother and doctor, I cannot sit silently and watch this injustice to children across the world and that's why I will be at the Mothers' Rebellion and demand urgent climate action from world leaders."
According to XR Families:
Mothers' Rebellion wants a livable, socially just, inclusive world for all children. Almost all children on Earth are already exposed to at least one form of climate and environmental danger or stress. Mothers' Rebellion demand immediate action to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2025, starting with the phase-out of fossil fuels, and to protect and repair ecosystems whilst also addressing social inequality.
Approximately one billion children—nearly half the world’s 2.2 billion children—live in one of the 33 countries classified as [being at] "extremely high-risk" to the effects of climate change. These figures are likely to get worse as the impacts of climate change accelerate. The climate crisis is also affecting children's mental health. A global survey illustrates the depth of anxiety many young people are feeling about climate change. Nearly 60% of young people approached said they felt very worried or extremely worried. 83% think adults have failed to take care of the planet.
The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health is calling for child health to be a central theme in all climate change policy decisions. All children should have the right to clean air, safe water, sanitation, affordable and nutritious food, and shelter. The climate crisis is a child rights crisis, and governments should mobilize and allocate resources to protect those rights and include a child rights risk assessment as part of all climate policy decisions.
"I consider the crowning glory of my life to be in the presence of my four grandchildren," said Valerie, a retired doctor and Health XR member. "How, in my late autumn years, can I justify my existence on this beautiful planet if it is not dedicated to whatever action I trust may play a part in preserving it and its glorious biodiversity—for them and all the world's children, born and yet to be?"
"Nothing else in my life can take precedence over this," Valerie continued. "Science does not lie. I call upon all grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and friends, older siblings, and those who work with young people in this ultimate expression of love for them—and for their children."
"Without a habitable planet, what value has everything else we may wish to bequeath to them?" she asked.
"Still a lot more to do but this is the impact of electing an environmentalist like Lula over a right-wing populist like Bolsonaro," said one observer.
Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest decreased by 68% this April compared with last year, according to preliminary government data published Friday.
The finding reflects positively on the administration of leftist Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has vowed to make the destruction of the crucial ecosystem "a thing of the past."
Official data from space research agency INPE showed that 328.71 square km (126.92 square miles) were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon last month, below the historical average of 455.75 square km for the month.
That interrupted two consecutive months of higher deforestation, with land clearing so far this year now down 40.4% to 1,173 square km.
Lula's victory last October over Brazil's far-right former president, Jair Bolsonaro, was hailed as a critical step toward rescuing the Amazon from more severe and possibly irreversible damage.
Parts of the Amazon, often referred to as the "lungs of the Earth" due to its unparalleled capacity to provide oxygen and absorb planet-heating carbon dioxide, recently passed a key tipping point after Bolsonaro intensified clearcutting of the tropical rainforest during his four-year reign. Bolsonaro's regressive policy changes pushed deforestation in Brazil to a 15-year high last year, helping to drive the country's greenhouse gas emissions to their highest level in almost two decades.
Most of the deforestation that occurred under Bolsonaro was illegal, fueled by logging, mining, and agribusiness companies that were given a green light by the ex-president and often used violence to repress Indigenous forest dwellers and other environmental defenders.
During a November speech at the United Nations COP27 climate summit in Egypt—his first on the international stage after defeating Bolsonaro—Lula said that "there's no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon," roughly 60% of which is located in Brazil.
"The crimes that happened [under Bolsonaro] will now be combated," said Lula, a Workers' Party member who previously served as Brazil's president from 2003 to 2010 and took office again on January 1. "We will rebuild our enforcement capabilities and monitoring systems that were dismantled during the past four years."
"We will fight hard against illegal deforestation. We will take care of Indigenous people," said Lula, who drastically reduced both deforestation and inequality when he governed the country earlier this century. "Brazil is emerging from the cocoon to which it has been subjected for the last four years."
As Reuters noted Friday, "Experts say it is still too early to confirm a downward trend, as the annual peak in deforestation from July to September lies ahead, but see it as a positive signal after rainforest destruction rocketed in late 2022."
"There are several factors, and the change in government might indeed be one of them," Daniel Silva, a conservation specialist at WWF-Brasil, told the outlet. "The environmental agenda has been resumed, but we know time is necessary for the results to be reaped."
"The environmental agenda has been resumed, but we know time is necessary for the results to be reaped."
Friends of the Earth campaigner and author Guy Shrubsole was quicker to give Lula credit.
"Still a lot more to do but this is the impact of electing an environmentalist like Lula over a right-wing populist like Bolsonaro," tweeted Shrubsole, whose books include The Lost Rainforests of Britain and Who Owns England?
Lula has taken important steps toward fulfilling his pledge to halt deforestation by 2030, though Reuters reported that the president "has faced continued challenges since taking office as [the] environmental agency IBAMA grapples with lack of staff," one lingering consequence of his predecessor's funding cuts.
Earlier this month, Lula secured "an 80 million-pound ($100.97 million) contribution from Britain to the Amazon Fund, an initiative aimed at fighting deforestation also backed by Norway, Germany, and the United States," Reuters noted. Last month, he "resumed the recognition of Indigenous lands, reversing a Bolsonaro policy, while announcing new job openings at the environment ministry and [the] Indigenous agency FUNAI."
Research has shown that granting land tenure to Indigenous communities is associated with improved forest outcomes.
Lula fully expected to face substantial opposition from corporate interests and right-wing Brazilian legislators.
The Washington Postreported last year that "a bloc of lawmakers with ties to agriculture could try to block Lula's environmental policies and pass legislation to facilitate land-grabbing and illegal mining."
Vox also explained that "deforestation is unlikely to stop altogether once Lula takes office."
"Bolsonaro's party still dominates Congress and will likely continue supporting the cattle industry, which is behind nearly all forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon," the outlet pointed out. "The country also faces an economic crisis and fallout from mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic, and it's not clear exactly how Lula will prioritize these competing crises."
Despite scientists' warnings that it will be virtually impossible to avert the worst consequences of the climate and biodiversity crises unless the world stops felling trees to make space for cattle ranching, monocropping, and other harmful practices, global efforts to reverse deforestation by 2030 are currently behind schedule and woefully underfunded.