Myanmar Rights Repression Rising Ahead of Election, Report Says

  • Amnesty says campaign has targeted `undersirable' voices
  • Government denies detaining people for exercising rights

Repression of rights in Myanmar has increased ahead of elections due next month, with the number of prisoners of conscience climbing to 91 from two over the past two years, Amnesty International said in a report.

In the report “Going Back to the Old Ways” released Thursday -- one month before voters head to the polls -- the group outlines the cases of numerous student leaders, labor activists, community organizers, media workers and politicians imprisoned by Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government since the end of 2013.

“Myanmar’s authorities have clearly been playing a long game ahead of the elections, with repression picking up pace at least nine months before the campaigning period started in September,” Laura Haigh, Amnesty International’s Myanmar researcher, said in a statement. “Their goal has been straightforward – take ‘undesirable’ voices off the streets way ahead of the elections and make sure they’re not heard.”

During Myanmar’s half-century of direct military rule -- which ended after 2010 polls that were boycotted by the opposition and not seen as free or fair -- it was common for people with dissenting voices to be imprisoned, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The military-backed government that emerged from the election embarked on a series of reforms, including a pardon of political prisoners, that led to an easing of international sanctions by foreign governments hopeful that Myanmar was on the path to a full-fledged democracy.

Suu Kyi’s Party

The Nov. 8 vote will be the first nationwide election contested by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party since it won polls in 1990 and was barred from taking power by the ruling junta. The party re-entered the political system in 2012 by-elections and is expected to make significant gains this time around, though Suu Kyi herself is constitutionally barred from becoming president even if her party wins the most seats in parliament.

Myanmar’s government denies that anyone is currently detained for peacefully exercising their rights, according to the Amnesty International report. The group said that isn’t true, and the government uses “a wide range of repressive and vaguely-worded laws to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

It is calling on Myanmar to immediately release all prisoners of conscience, drop pending charges against others who have exercised their rights peacefully and to change or repeal laws that violate human-rights principles. It’s also urging the international community to renew pressure on the government to release those imprisoned.

“Myanmar’s government is trying to spin an alternate reality where all is rosy for human rights, which the international community is far too eager to accept,” Haigh said. “The reality on the ground could not be more different.”