Rights Group Launches Pre-Election Burma Campaign

Human Rights Watch has launched a campaign to push for the release of political prisoners ahead of Burma’s elections next year. Rights groups have repeatedly blasted the ruling junta’s election plans as farcical, given the obvious lack of freedoms associated with the process.

The HRW campaign, “2,100 by 2010,” is an attempt to counter ongoing junta arrests, intimidation and detentions of pro-democracy activists. As part of its crackdown, the Burmese regime has targeted people on a variety of spurious charges related to protests against forced labor and providing aid to victims of the deadly Cyclone Nargis.

“The United States, China, India, and Burma’s neighbors in Southeast Asia should make the release of all political prisoners a central goal of their engagement with Burma, and use every tool of influence and leverage they have to achieve it,” Tom Malinowksi, HRW’s Washington advocacy director, said in a press release.

The prisoners include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the last 20 years in detention, the Burmese comedian Zargana, labor rights activist Su Su Nway, along with doctors, journalists, teachers and monks.

Rights groups believe the number of political prisoners in detention has doubled in the last two years to over 2,220 people. The junta ordered the release of a handful of political prisoners late last week, but rights activists were unimpressed.

“Anything less than the release of all those prisoners is going to be inadequate,” Amnesty International’s Burma researcher Benjamin Zawacki told Voice of America.