US concerned at arrests, prison terms of protestors

16 July 2015
US concerned at arrests, prison terms of protestors
Students protest in downtown Yangon, Myanmar on 30 June 2015. Photo: Thet Ko/Mizzima

The US embassy has issued a statement voicing its concern over the recent arrests and prison sentences handed down to protesters advocating for reform of the constitution.
The release coincides with recent hearings of protestors charged with violations including inciting public alarm and not receiving permission to protest after hundreds of protesters participated in the demonstrations in Yangon on June 30 over the failed efforts to amend the 2008 Constitution.
The statement issued by the US embassy states: “Upholding an individual’s ability to exercise his or her basic rights of peaceful expression and assembly is central to any democracy, and fundamental to the on-going reform process.
“Free exercise of these rights will be particularly important during the upcoming election season as a measure of the election’s transparency, inclusiveness and credibility, and we urge authorities to ensure those democratic rights are protected in the coming months and beyond.”
Simon Billenness, the executive director of the US Campaign for Burma expressed concerns over the heavy handedness of the government: “The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) - AAPPB - counts 149 political prisoners and 446 facing charges, including students, land rights activists, and other peaceful demonstrators charged with "unlawful assembly.”
He said this “comes at the same time as the ruling regime has allowed and encouraged demonstrations by the extreme ultra-nationalist group, Ma Ba Tha, which has engaged in hate speech against the ethnic Rohingya and Muslims in general.”
Religious group Ma Ba Tha last week threatened country-wide demonstrations in relation to the continuation of the Dagon City Project, which they claimed was due to be built too close to the revered Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Meetings between the group and military personal ended in the group’s demands being met and the government withdrawing its approval for the project.
Since the beginning of 2015, Myanmar has seen a string of brutal police crackdowns on pro-reform demonstrators that have led to arrests, beatings and claims of abuse in custody.
Updated 17 July