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HRW: Myanmar authorities should immediately release political prisoners

[JURIST] The Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged the government of Myanmar on Sunday to release all remaining prisoners currently being held for political and religious violations. The National League for Democracy Party (NLD) [official website, in Burmese], which won in a national election [JURIST report] last November, has already promised [Myanmar Times report] that there will be no political prisoners when they take office in late March. The party has defined "political prisoner" to be "anyone arrested, detained or imprisoned for their direct or indirect activities to promote freedom, equality, and human and civil rights, including ethnic minorities, as well as for involvement in anti-government protests.” However, HRW Asia Director Phil Robertson [official profile] has stressed [HRW report] that current Myanmar President Thein Sein [official website] should immediately fulfill a similar promise he made in 2012. Though President Sein initially formed review committees and made significant progress, the HRW reports that the number of political charges and convictions has drastically risen in recent years. The HRW elaborates that the number of political prisoners has grown from 25 to 128, and 472 Myanmar citizens face charges for exercising civil rights in various ongoing cases. The court in Myanmar is currently scheduled to hear one of these cases on Tuesday which regards 50 Burmese students arrested for peaceful political protests against the National Education Bill.

Serious political and social issues have continued to arise in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, since independence from the British in 1948. In October President Sein signed a nationwide ceasefire agreement [JURIST report] with eight armed rebel groups in an effort to establish peace in Myanmar. In March UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee called on state authorities [JURIST report] to address ongoing challenges to the democratic reform process in Myanmar. Previous Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana expressed concern [JURIST report] last April about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country's Rakhine State [JURIST news archive]. In October 2013 Quintana warned [JURIST report] that sectarian violence between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State was contributing to wider anti-Muslim sentiments in Myanmar and threatening the positive changes undertaken by the country in the past two years.

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