BURMA: Authorities persecute political opponents ahead of announced election 

While the military regime in Burma has iterated that it will hold a general election for a new legislature before the end of 2010, government officials have been relentlessly pursuing, intimidating and imprisoning political opponents. In recent weeks the Asian Human Rights Commission has issued appeals on a number of such cases, including the sentencing of a journalist to 13 years in jail for non-existent video footage; the detention, torture and evidence-free trial of 11 people; and the imprisonment of another nine on confessions obtained through use of torture.

The imprisonment of opponents rightly attracts widespread concern and condemnation abroad. But the authorities in Burma have a range of other legal and extra-legal measures at their disposal to persecute dissidents and their families beyond the jail walls. A case in point is the recent auctioning of seized property owned by the family of one detainee, Daw Win Mya Mya, in Mandalay.

In 2008 the AHRC issued an appeal on the imprisonment of Daw Win Mya Mya and four other persons for allegedly having participated in a meeting of the National League for Democracy during September 2007 where according to the police the speeches were aimed at causing public unrest (AHRC-UAC-246-2008). Win Mya Mya is currently serving her sentence for these so-called crimes.

Meanwhile, some months before her arrest in 2007 the Mandalay municipality seized the market stall owned by Win Mya Mya’s family because of two small NLD stickers on one side of the premises. This February 17, it sold the stall at auction, despite repeated requests from the family to senior officials for the stall to be returned to them as the family income depends upon it. The family has also been unable to rent any other place with which to continue their business.

The persecuting of the family in this case speaks to the extent to which the authorities in Burma are prepared to exercise their coercive powers through a range of sanctions aimed not only at defeating the fundamental rights of political opponents through denial of fair trial and imprisonment but also comprehensively demolishing their social status and economic capacity.

It is also indicative of the pathetic conditions of a family victimized by officials in Burma, whose only possibility for redress is feudalistic: to approach senior army officers and beg that they not be punished for some perceived offence. This method of making a complaint and seeking satisfaction for wrongs committed belongs to the 18th century, not the 21st.

All this is while the military leadership has said that a general election for a new parliament will be held before the end of the year. Even though some persons inside and outside the country have expressed hope that the vote will mark a turning point in the long decades of army control over government in Burma, cases of this sort are indicative of how authorities at all levels are continuing with business as usual, and the extent to which the state’s coercive apparatus will continue operating according to its own logic and the objectives of its agents irrespective of what goes on upon the national political stage.

As the year passes and the ballot approaches, it will be beholden on persons and organisations concerned with human rights in Burma to continue to document, narrate and protest against such methods of persecuting political opponents, clearly and unequivocally. In this way, we can express concern and solidarity not only for the persons victimised, like Daw Win Mya Mya’s family, but also can paint a clearer picture of how the infrastructure of state in Burma has been evolved over the past half-century to suppress dissent and harass dissenters, and how it will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-045-2010
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Issues : Democracy, Freedom of association, Freedom of expression,