Thu 17 Jan 2013
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
After 16 years in exile, leading activists of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) returned to Burma this week to host a fundraising event for the country’s remaining prisoners of conscience and for the victims of the ongoing Kachin conflict. The three-day event in Rangoon centered on these two issues, but it also included musical performances and other entertainment. Moreover, the event provided an occasion for former political prisoners and activists to meet and refocus their efforts to push for freedom in Burma.
AAPP Joint Secretary Bo Kyi said much work remained to be done in order to release the last prisoners of conscience and to remove repressive laws that are still in place, adding that he would work with the 88 Student Generation activists, who co-hosted the event, to achieve these goals.
“Burma will have a better image in terms of political change, if the government releases all remaining political prisoners. More foreign investment would come after that,” he said on Tuesday.
AAPP’s website said 222 political prisoners remained incarcerated in Burma on Jan. 8, while more than 100 are facing trial, mostly in Arakan and Kachin states. Before President Thein Sein began political reforms in Burma in 2011, an estimated 2,000 political activists were locked up.
Htay Kywe, an 88 Generation activist who attended the event, said there was still a strong need to fight for the release of the last prisoners. “There is no clear policy from the government when we asked them to release to all of the people,” he said, adding, “There should not be any political prisoners as the country is undergoing democratic change.”
Htay Kywe said the government was keeping people locked up on a range of politically-motivated charges, making it hard for activists to monitor their situation and get an exact figure for the total number of remaining prisoners of conscience.
AAPP Secretary Tate Naing said that returning to Rangoon and seeing his former cellmates after 16 years in Thailand, where AAPP has been based, was bittersweet. “I could not recognize some of my former inmates very well. They have all become old-aged,” he said.
AAPP staffer Nyo Tun said that organizing the event, which was attended by some 200 people, had been difficult as the government only gave its permission at the very last moment.
The money raised at the event would help support AAPP, which has been struggling to raise sufficient funds for its programs, he said, adding that some of it would be used to offer livelihood support to former political prisoners and for aid for victims of the Kachin conflict in northern Burma.