Burma: Activist jailed for 'harmless' Facebook post on same day as prisoner amnesty

  • 102 people released in prisoner amnesty
  • British man Philip Blackwood among prisoners released today
  • Scores more prisoners of conscience remain behind bars

Today’s jailing of another activist just hours after a prisoner amnesty was announced in Burma is a stark reminder of how prevalent repression still is in the country, said Amnesty International.

The government today announced the release of 102 prisoners, including at least 16 prisoners of conscience for whom Amnesty has campaigned. But a court in Yangon today also sentenced peace activist Patrick Kum Jaa Lee, 43, to six months in prison for “online defamation”. He was first arrested last October for a Facebook post showing someone stepping on a photo of Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Amnesty International’s Burma Researcher, Laura Haigh said:  

“Today’s events sum up how the Burmese authorities give with one hand and take with the other. Just hours after the prisoner amnesty was announced, an activist has been sentenced to six months in jail for nothing but a harmless Facebook post.

“Although we are delighted for those who walk free today, scores more remain behind bars while hundreds of other peaceful activists are on bail facing jail time.

“Amnesties like the one today have little positive long-term effect as long as the same repressive practices fuelling arbitrary arrests and detention of activists continue. The guilty verdict against Patrick Kum Jaa Lee is outrageous and must be overturned.”

Among the prisoners of conscience released today are: Philip Blackwood, who last year was given two and a half years in prison for “insulting religion” and another charge after using an image of the Buddha to promote a night club; and 13 members of the Michaungkan community jailed in 2015 for protesting in a land dispute.

Amnesty is aware of almost 100 other prisoners of conscience still behind bars.

Laura Haigh added:
“If President Thein Sein is serious about leaving a positive legacy, he must clear the country’s jails of all prisoners of conscience once and for all.

“Despite the optimism around the recent elections, today’s verdict is also a clear reminder that peacefully criticising the military is still very much off limits in Burma. The new government must do much more to ensure full respect for the human right to freedom of expression.”

Background

Prisoners of conscience released in today’s amnesty include:

Naung Naung, member of the Movement for Democratic Current Force, sentenced in October 2014 to two years and four months’ imprisonment for protesting without authorisation and for distributing leaflets stating that Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders had been elected as an interim government.

Thirteen members of the Michaungkan community in Yangon sentenced at the end of last year to seven months in prison for participating in a series of peaceful protests relating to a land dispute.

Phillip Blackwood, sentenced to two years and six months in prison in March 2015 for “insulting religion” after an image of the Buddha wearing headphones was posted on social media to promote a Yangon bar.  Amnesty has so far been unable to confirm if Thun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin – who were jailed in same case – have also been released.

Student Naing Ye Wai, sentenced to prison last year for peacefully protesting in Mandalay for the release of all detained students and for the newly adopted National Education Law to be amended.

Nearly 100 prisoners of conscience are still behind bars, including:

Phyoe Phyoe Aung, Secretary General of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), currently on trial along dozens of other peaceful student protesters and their supporters for protesting against the National Education Law last year; five media workers from the Unity Weekly magazine who were jailed for publishing an article about an alleged chemical weapons factory in 2014; and writer Htin Lin Oo, sentenced last year to two years in prison after he gave a speech criticising the use of Buddhism to promote religious discrimination.
 

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