EU must grasp 'rare opportunity' to press for release of political prisoners in Burma

Amnesty to hold demonstration on the day that Aung San Suu Kyi completes her 13th year in detention and EU and Asian leaders meet in Beijing

Amnesty International today called on European Union leaders to grasp the opportunity of a rare meeting with Burma’s military junta to press for significant human rights improvements in the country.

The Burmese representatives are due to attend today’s Asia-Europe meeting (ASEM) in Beijing on the very day that the iconic Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi completes her 13th year in detention.

Amnesty International made the call in a letter to the French presidency of the EU (available at ). Top of the list of concerns are the 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, many of whom are at risk of torture. Amnesty International and Burma Campaign UK will also be holding a demonstration outside the Chinese Embassy in London at 1-2pm today (Friday 24 October) to highlight their plight.

Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s EU Office, said:

“As co-chair, the French Presidency can ensure that the serious human rights situation in Burma is given the attention it deserves. ASEM’s voice could make a real difference towards these prisoners of conscience.

“This is a rare opportunity to engage in direct dialogue with the authorities of Burma which should not be missed.”

Amnesty International has provided information on urgent cases such as that of Myo Yang Naung Thein who could be sentenced in the next three weeks.

Arrested in December 2007 in connection with the filming of the September protests, he has suffered a paralysis of the lower part of his body since his arrest and has had to be carried into court on a stretcher for each of his multiple court appearances.

Amnesty International is concerned that this could be the result of torture during interrogation sessions and has called on the French Presidency to press for an immediate improvement in the conditions of his detention, and for his unconditional release.

The on-going military offensive against the ethnic Karen civilians in eastern Burma is another great source of concern. The largest military operation in a decade has primarily targeted civilians, leading to almost 150,000 internally displaced people. In a report released in June 2008 Amnesty International stated that the widespread violations were crimes against humanity. It urges the French Presidency to call on Burma to stop all the violations against civilians in this offensive.

The human rights organisation is also concerned with the ongoing constitutional process which rather than attempting to introduce the rule of law, appears to legitimise the government’s continuing human rights abuses. The EU should lead efforts to press the Burma authorities to radically alter the Constitutional draft.

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