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New president of Burma brings hope of genuine human rights change

This is no April Fools, we promise. Today, Htin Kyaw takes his seat as the first democratically elected president of Burma for over 50 years.

His party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a majority of seats in free elections held in November – and counts 100 former political prisoners among its MPs. These are people who know what being persecuted just for criticising the government is all about. As they take up office, there are nearly 100 prisoners of conscience behind bars – all detained for peacefully expressing their views. And they are going to have to do something about that.

Cautious optimism

You might be surprised that Aung San Suu Kyi – herself arguably the world’s most well-known former prisoner of conscience – is not the president. That’s because a clause in Burma’s constitution blocks her from ever taking up the highest office. She will though serve as an MP and as a minister. And it is widely expected she will be the de facto ruler of the country – she has even publicly stated so.

With key individuals in power who have clearly stated commitments to human rights, you can’t help feel optimistic that real change may be coming. In fact, leading members of the NLD have publicly stated that they plan on freeing all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience still in jail.

We’re urging Htin Kyaw to act on that promise and ensure that all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are freed immediately and unconditionally. Individuals like Phyoe Phyoe Aung, held since March 2015 just because she protested against a law which she believes limits academic freedom.

Spotlight on Burma

Now is the time to act: world media is focused on Burma and the new president. The cover of publicity should allow prisoner amnesties to take place without the military interfering. It should also provide a strong incentive to act decisively and quickly – to show the world that a new Burma is coming under the leadership of the NLD.

As well as freeing the remaining political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, we’re calling for the new government to undo the laws still on the statute books that could again be used to imprison peaceful protestors like Phyoe Phyoe Aung. They need to:

  1. Ensure Myanmar’s legal framework on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association is in line with international law and standards
  2. Ensure that human rights defenders, former prisoners of conscience and civil society can conduct their work free of surveillance and harm.

Spending years in prison for peacefully protesting is no joke. We will be working to keep the pressure up on the new government and the military to ensure that these changes can and do happen.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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