Rights group urges Myanmar to free political prisoners before election

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[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Thursday urged [press release] the government of Myanmar to release all political prisoners ahead of the nation’s November elections—the first to be held in 20 years. Myanmar currently holds 2,200 political prisoners, the majority of whom were arrested for peaceful activism. AI’s statement marks the third anniversary of the violent government crackdown on activism in response to the Saffron Revolution [Independent, backgrounder], a peaceful pro-democracy movement led by Buddhist monks. Political prisoners will be banned from the upcoming elections and from holding membership in any political party. Benjamin Zawacki of AI said: “[t]hese prisoners constitute a significant part of the political opposition.” Myanmar officials announced Friday that detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] will be permitted to vote [BBC report] in the elections, breaking with earlier statements that she would be kept from participating.

Under house arrest, Suu Kyi was previously prohibited from participating in this year’s elections. Her detention and previous exclusion from the election have drawn criticism [JURIST report] from the UN and various rights groups. Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years, will be released in November [JURIST report], according to a government official, likely after the elections have taken place. In April, Suu Kyi filed suit before the Myanmar’s Supreme Court to contest the dissolution of her opposition party, National League for Democracy [party website], under a controversial election law [JURIST report]. Additionally, the claim seeks to annul the part of the election law that bars political prisoners [JURIST report] from participating in elections and also requests the establishment of a parliament of lawmakers who won in the 1990 elections.

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