Burma (Burma): Crackdown on political opposition a massive step backwards for human rights

The human rights organisation is calling for the detainees to be granted access to relatives, lawyers and medical care, and for those who are being held for nothing more than exercising their right to peaceful protest to be released.

Amnesty International said:

'This is a completely unwarranted and harsh crackdown on political party members and others carrying out their legitimate activities. The authorities' claim that Aung San Suu Kyi and 18 other senior National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders are being held in 'protective custody' begs the question of who is being protected from what.

'The SPDC must take immediate steps to uphold the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly in Burma. It must institute a full and independent investigation into all alleged grave human rights violations and bring suspected perpetrators to justice. The whereabouts and fate of those reported missing must be made public immediately.'

Amnesty International is concerned that there has been a serious escalation in political violence and repression in Burma following protests last Friday (30 May). There are reports that at least four people have been killed, more than a hundred have been arrested and placed in incommunicado detention – NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is in a 'military guesthouse' - and a further 150 people are missing.

Last Friday (30 May) 250 NLD party members, accompanying party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on a tour of Upper Burma, were reportedly attacked by members of the police and military, when travelling on a road at night in a remote area. Officials have stated that four persons were killed and 50 injured after members of the NLD clashed with a crowd of 5,000 people demonstrating against the political party at Yawayoo, on the road from Budalin to Dapayin, and that local military authorities subsequently intervened.

Unconfirmed opposition reports say more than 70 people were killed and 200 injured when they were attacked by soldiers, police, and prisoners from Mandalay Prison, who shot at them with catapults and beat them after they drove round the side of a road block. Soldiers also reportedly opened fire on the group, killing members of the NLD.

Opposition sources further allege that a demonstration by students last Saturday (31 May) in Monywa, Sagaing Division, in protest against the attack on 30 May 2003, was suppressed with violence by the military, who reportedly fired on and assaulted demonstrators, leading to the death of an abbot and two students.

More than 100 members of the main opposition party, including the entire senior leadership of the party, are believed to be in detention or under house arrest and have reportedly had no access to lawyers or relatives. Authorities have stated that they have put Aung San Suu Kyi and 18 other senior leaders into 'protective custody' and are giving them 'proper care and protection.' Aung San Suu Kyi is reportedly being held in a 'military guest-house'. NLD offices and Shan National League for Democracy offices across the country have been reportedly closed down, and authorities have indefinitely closed high schools and universities.

Amnesty International is further concerned by official statements accusing NLD members of touring the country to 'incite unrest' by making speeches critical of the authorities. The organisation is calling on the authorities to investigate reports that the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA), and other groups organised or supported by the authorities, have reportedly been inciting protests against the NLD and threatening violence against the political party on Aung San Suu Kyi's recent visits outside the capital city.

Background

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, which won the majority of votes in the 1990 elections in Burma, was released from de facto house arrest in May 2002, after being held since September 2000. Since her release from detention, she has been able to travel to meet party members outside the capital. In recent weeks NLD members have been arrested and sentenced to prison terms, reportedly for their political activities.

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