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Human Rights Situation Still Dire Despite Elections: Amnesty

Phyo Phyo Aung, one of the leaders of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions and one of dozens held behind bars for nearly a year for her role in 2015's National Education Law protests. (AFP)

By Sean Gleeson 
February 24, 2016

YANGON — Though the incoming National League for Democracy government has made a laudable commitment to human rights in Myanmar, 2015 saw an increased clampdown on dissenting voices and a failure to address rising religious intolerance, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

Amnesty’s annual global human rights report, released on Tuesday morning, also noted a number of instances of human rights violations committed by Myanmar’s security forces, which the organisation said “continued to enjoy near-total impunity.”

“Despite the euphoria around the November elections, the situation on the ground in Myanmar is still a very troubling one,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia director. “Repression of freedom of expression continued to pick up pace in 2015 – almost 100 prisoners of conscience remain behind bars.”

Despite President Thein Sein's pledge to end the detention of political prisoners by the end of 2013, last year saw the arrest and trial of a number of peaceful activists and protesters. Among them are the dozens of student demonstrators who have been held in Bago Region's Thayawady Prison for nearly a year, arrested during the violent crackdown on a protest against the National Education Law on March 10. 

The report noted with concern the passage of the four so-called “race and religion” laws between May and August last year, sponsored by the Buddhist nationalist Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, commonly known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha. The bills, which place new criminal restrictions on adultery, religious conversion, inter-faith marriages and conception, are widely considered by domestic observers and international rights organisations to be directed against Myanmar’s Muslim minority.

Amnesty’s report also highlighted the worsening situation for the country’s Rohingya minority, largely based in Rakhine State and commonly referred to by the government as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. In addition to reports of arbitrary arrest and torture, Amnesty highlighted the mass exodus of 33,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees during 2015, as well as the decision to disenfranchise Rohingya voters ahead of last year’s election, despite their participation in the 2010 poll.

Regionally, Amnesty expressed concern that authorities in Thailand had stepped up their efforts to silence dissenting voices and imprison opponents of that country’s military junta. In India, Amnesty said authorities had placed new restrictions on civil society groups critical of government policies, while police had been ineffective in addressing increased religious tensions and communal violence.

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