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Myanmar: UN expert urges Government to release over 2,200 remaining prisoners of conscience

(Statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás OJEA QUINTANA, one month after the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi)

GENEVA (13 December 2010) – “One month after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, I call upon the Government of Myanmar to release the remaining prisoners of conscience, currently estimated to be at least 2,202, many of whom are right now suffering serious health problems from the harsh conditions of their detention.

It is with much sadness that I learned of the death of yet another prisoner of conscience on 8 December: U Naymeinda (a.k.a. Myo Min or Nay Win) who was 50 years old and had been a Buddhist monk for 30 years. He is the 145th prisoner of conscience to die in prison since 1988.

He had been arrested for distributing leaflets supporting a pro-democracy demonstration on 9 September 1999 and was charged under the Unlawful Associations Act and the Emergency Provisions Act and sentenced to 20 years in prison. His health deteriorated as he was transferred to Moulmein Prison in Mon State far from his family making it difficult for them to visit and provide essential food and medicine, a practice that is used too frequently to additionally punish not only the prisoners but also their families.

I am deeply concerned about reports I have received on several prisoners in Cell block 4 in Insein prison, who appear to be suffering from malnutrition-related diseases as well as tuberculosis.

As Myanmar attempts to move forward in its democratic transition and the new Government seeks to establish a new era of peace and prosperity for the people, it is critical that prisoners of conscience be released immediately and unconditionally. These are individuals who were imprisoned for exercising their basic human rights, the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

A release would be a very strong signal that the new Government of Myanmar intends to uphold these fundamental freedoms and would be welcomed by both people inside and outside the country. Before the national legislative elections on 7 November, the Government had indicated that it might release some prisoners. No such release of prisoners of conscience took place.

According to the Government, revision of national laws, particularly those used to convict many of the prisoners of conscience, to be in accordance with international law has been in process and will be one of the matters for the new Parliament to take up. All prisoners of conscience should be released in advance of those deliberations.”

Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana (Argentina) was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/mm/mandate/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For press inquiries and additional information, please contact Ms. Christine Chung (Tel: +41 22 928 9673 / email: cchung@ohchr.org) or write to sr-myanmar@ohchr.org.