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Myanmar: “Prisoners of conscience must be released without any conditions” – UN rights expert

GENEVA (9 October 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, has welcomed the latest presidential amnesty on 8 October resulting in the release of 56 prisoners of conscience, while raising concerns over ongoing arrests of activists and conditions attached to arrests.

“I commend the Government for this latest amnesty, and celebrate the release of these people who had been unjustly imprisoned under the previous military Government,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said. “These releases are not only important for the victims and their families, but also for the ongoing process of democratic transition and national reconciliation.”

“However, the release of prisoners of conscience is something that should be based on principle and should therefore occur immediately and unconditionally,” the expert said, while noting that the Code of Criminal Procedure enables the attachment of conditions to the discharge of prisoners, such as the imposition of the remaining sentence if the President judges that a condition of release has been broken.

“Administrative obstacles should also be removed which hinder former prisoners’ freedom to relocate to different states and regions in Myanmar, restrict them in running for public office, as well as hinder their acquisition of passports and professional work licences,” he said. “The release of prisoners of conscience must be without any conditions.”

The human rights expert also expressed concern over ongoing arrests and convictions taking place which he believes are politically motivated, including individuals involved in land rights protests: “These releases need to be accompanied by legislative reforms, including the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, to ensure that new prisoners of conscience do not take the place of old ones.”

“There are also other cases that need to be included in the President’s commitment to release all political prisoners by the end of the year, including the four INGO workers who have been arbitrarily detained in Buthidaung Prison since June and July 2012, and human rights defenders in Rakhine State such as Dr. Tun Aung and U Kyaw Hla Aung, who have also been arbitrarily detained since June 2012 and July 2013 respectively,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur will present his latest report on the human rights situation in Myanmar to the General Assembly in New York on 24 October 2013.

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. He has worked at the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. He was also the Executive Director of the OHCHR Programme for Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Bolivia. Most recently, Mr. Ojea Quintana has represented the Argentinean NGO “Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo” in cases concerning child abduction during the military régime. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Daniel Collinge (+41 22 928 9173 / dcollinge@ohchr.org)

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Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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