History & Current Events
_List of the 471 political prisoners currently incarcerated in Burma whose whereabouts are verified
List of the 465 political prisoners whose whereabouts are currently under verification
Compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)
(Last update 9 June 2012)
List of the (at least) 45 political prisoners released on Monday 19th November 2012 confirmed by the AAPP. (PDF)
“What I have experienced is nothing compared to what political prisoners in prisons suffer and I would like to urgently draw the world’s attention to their plight. We must do everything to secure their release.”
- Aung San Suu Kyi
“Why are they still in prison if this government is really intent on making good progress towards democracy? If it is sincere in its claims that it wishes to bring democracy into Burma, there is no need for any prisoners of conscious to exist in this country.”
- Aung San Suu Kyi
Chronology of Political Prisoners in Burma - AAPP
Monthly report on the current situation of political prisoners in Burma by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners - Burma (AAPP)
The recognition of political prisoners: essential to democratic and national reconciliation process
by AAPP, 9 November 2011
SILENCING DISSENT: The ongoing imprisonment of Burma’s political activists in the lead up to the 2010 elections
by AAPP, 3 November 2010
Torture, Political Prisoners and the Un-Rule of Law: Challenges to Peace, Security and Human Rights in Burma
by Bo Kyi & Hannah Scott, AAPP, 14 October 2010
The Role of Political Prisoners in The National Reconciliation Process
by AAPP, 23 March 2010
Free Burma VJ's Interactive Prison Map
_ What is a political prisoner?
Political prisoners are those who have been imprisoned for their actual or perceived political activities. Many political prisoners are leading members of the community and/or country: monks, labour activists, lawyers, teachers, doctors, journalists. The motivation behind the arrest and detention is also political. In Burma, as elsewhere, the government attempts to de-politicise such convictions by attaching them to a range of laws such as the Electronic Transactions Law, the Unlawful Association Act, the Printers and Publishers Act or the Immigration Act. Political prisoners are held in one of Burma’s 43 prisons, 109 labour camps, or an unknown number of interrogation centres. It goes without saying that the government of Burma does not recognise the status of detainees as political prisoners.
How many political prisoners are there?
Estimating the number of political prisoners is difficult due to a lack of transparency at government and prison level; there are also several inaccessible prisons and undoubtedly further unknown prisons. The government of Burma makes data collection difficult, barring observers from the institutions, in order to blunt opposition efforts.
In a press statement released on 21 November 2012, the AAPP estimates that there are 216 political prisoners remaining in jail in Burma, noting that 100 are currently facing trial and over 1,000 have been arrested due to the violence in Arakan state since June.
Click here for recent news on the current status of Political Prisoners.
What does this mean for democracy and human rights in Burma?
As mentioned, many political prisoners in Burma are leading members of the community and well respected national figures. The removal of these individuals from public life has severe implications for the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. Many leading members of the National League for Democracy and the 88 Students Generation are detained and therefore prevented from participating in or organising an opposition. Political prisoners were barred from voting in or standing as candidates in the 2010 elections and cannot join political parties or civil society groups without restrictions from the authorities. Furthermore, arrests and detention add to the climate of fear in Burma and serve to threaten the population, thus destabilising opposition among the public.
How are they convicted?
Military Intelligence personnel are usually responsible for the arrest of political activists. Individuals are taken to a secret detention centre, where they are interrogated and often tortured for lengthy periods, without any contact with the outside world. After interrogation they are usually transferred to a prison, labour camp or police station, often far from their homes and families. It may be many weeks or months before an individual is formally charged. Trials often begin in closed courts or inside prisons, before which individuals may or may not have had access to a lawyer. Trials can take only as long as a few minutes, with the right to appeal often denied. Sentences are applied cumulatively rather than concurrently, meaning that jail terms of 30 years or more are not uncommon.
What is prison like in Burma?
We know about life in Burma’s prisons, interrogation centres and labour camps only from the reports of former detainees, since observers are barred by the authorities. Since prisoners are often taken to institutions far from their homes, it can be difficult for family to visit and provide much needed medicine, food and news. When they do visit there is heavy surveillance. Transferring prisoners between institutions, often to remote locations, is a common practice which adds mental and physical stress. Hard labour, unhygienic conditions, poor quality and limited amounts of food, restricted movement the denial of access to essential medical care are experienced by prisoners every day. In prisons and interrogation centres there is a widespread use of physical, psychological and sexual torture against political prisoners.
What happens when political prisoners are released?
The majority of political prisoners are released only after completing their prison terms (bearing in mind that the original sentence may be extended multiple times). However, some political prisoners have been released as part of general amnesties for prisoners. Since the civilian-backed government came into power in 2010 they have released political prisoners as part of several amnesties: on 16 May 2011, 55 (or 0.1%) political prisoners were released of a total 14,578 releases; on 13 October 2011, 206 political prisoners were released of a total 6,359; on 13 January 2012, 13 political prisoners were released of a total 651. In the amnesty on 13 January 2012, some of the most high profile political prisoners, around whom there had been much campaigning, were released, including Min Ko Naing (a leading member of the 88 Students Generation group), Khhun Htun Oo (chair of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy), U Gambira (a Buddhist monk who played a leading role in organising the Saffron Revolution).
Despite releasing a number of high-profile political prisoners, the government of Burma has not recognised their status as political prisoners. Nor has the government addressed the laws under which the individuals were arrested or given any guarantee for their treatment after release. Concerns about treatment of former political prisoners after their release remain. Such treatment may include: extensive monitoring by intelligence services; the threat of re-arrest; harassment of former political prisoners and their families; social exclusion; denial of access to key documents such as passports; denial of access to education and employment due to the possession of a criminal record; and the denial of political rights, including exclusion from voting in or standing as candidates in elections, joining political parties, and from forming political parties or civil society groups.
Rather than a blanket release of all political prisoners and recognition of their status, the releases have been strategic and are regarded as bargaining chips by many groups. Without full recognition of the status of political prisoners and without the disclosure of the numbers and whereabouts of remaining political prisoners in Burma as a prelude to a blanket release of all political prisoners and guarantee against re-arrest, the recent releases must be regarded with caution. It remains to be seen whether former political prisoners will be allowed to fully and safely resume their roles as leading voices of opposition in Burma.
Khun Be Du, Khun Dee De and Khun Kawiro: Karenni activists Khun Bedu, Khun Kawrio and Khun Dee De were sentenced to 35-37 years in prison for helping organize a peaceful protest in opposition to the 2008 referendum on the new constitution which was drafted without properly consulting Burma’s ethnic minority population. All three are leading members of an activist youth group, the Kayan New Generation Youth (KNGY), which carries out human rights work in eastern Burma and in exile. In opposition to the constitutional referendum Khun Bedu, Khun Kawrio and Khun Dee De organised dissidents to release balloons, launch paper boats and spray-paint walls with their peaceful political messages. They were subsequently arrested, tortured and sentenced by the military, without trial, judge or defence. They are all currently held in prisons far from their homes.
Mar Mar Oo: Having been imprisoned twice for her political activities, Mar Mar Oo played an active part in the 88 Generation Student Group’s protest movement against fuel cost hikes in 2007. After evading the authorities for a year she was arrested in 2008, and remains in prison.
Zarganar: Zarganar is a widely respected and much-loved figure in Burma. A comedian and political activist, Zarganar publicly supported the 88 Generation in 2006 and was briefly detained in 2007 for his support of monks during the Saffron Revolution. In 2008, Zarganar was arrested for his role in organising relief efforts following Cyclone Nargis and for criticising the regime’s response to the disaster. He was sentenced to 59 years in prison, later reduced to 35 years. He was released in 2010 as part of a government amnesty.
‘The role of political prisoners in the national reconciliation process’ – Associated Assistance for Political Prisoners (Burma), March 2010.
‘The Darkness We See: Torture in Burma’s interrogation centres and prisons’ – Associated Assistance for Political Prisoners (Burma), December 2005.
‘Silencing Dissent: The ongoing imprisonment of Burma’s political activists in the lead up to the 2010 elections; - Associated Assistance for Political Prisoners (Burma),
 These figures are only estimates: Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP).