'Hope' For Political Prisoners

In her latest weekly conversation with listeners, Aung San Suu Kyi discusses the prospect for a future release of political prisoners.

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Q:  Even though U Thein Sein’s government has come into power, human rights violations are still taking place in Burma, especially at the grassroots level. And though the government has formed a human rights commission, human rights are not being upheld for the ethnic minorities and in the border areas. I would like to ask you to take the lead in organizing a national human rights convention so that these issues can be dealt with.

A:  I have heard U Win Mra, the chairman of the Human Rights Commission, say on the radio that the commission will deal with allegations of human rights violations that are submitted by the people. I would like you to try to write to U Win Mra to inform him about the violations that have occurred in your area. Only if we make these kinds of submissions will we know whether they will really take action or not. I agree that we need to organize a human rights convention that will address rights concerns across the country. From our side, we will endeavor to organize such a convention.

Q:  I welcome the fact that President U Thein Sein has suspended the Myitsone Dam project. But the Shwe gas pipeline project in Rakhine State has still not been suspended, and the agricultural land belonging to people living along the pipeline has been confiscated. Forced labor is also being used to build the pipeline, and the environment in the area has been depleted and destroyed. I believe that if all the people of Burma boycott the use of goods imported from China, work on the Shwe gas pipeline can also be suspended. Would that be possible?

A:  Although one cannot say that a nationwide boycott could not happen, I don’t think it would be easy. But it is necessary for the whole country, including the government, to be aware of matters that are really giving trouble to the people. Only then will we be able to find solutions to such issues. However, while we are protecting the interests of the people, we must at the same time be aware of—and take care to maintain—good relations with our neighboring countries.

Q:  I am a military veteran from the time of the Burma Socialist Party Program (BSPP). During that period, a general amnesty was given under Proclamation 2/80. People were very happy at that time. Now, during the time that U Thein Sein has been in office, two amnesties have been announced, but the people who were not released and the families of those who were not released are not too happy. What is your view regarding this? Also, with regard to the fighting that has been going on between the present government and the armed ethnic nationalities, it is the soldiers who are getting killed and their families who are having to suffer, while the leaders on both sides are getting rich and living in luxury. Solutions to these problems now seem farther away.

A:  The National League for Democracy (NLD) and I have resolutely demanded the release of all political prisoners. Although they have not all been released now, we will continue to hope and demand that they be released as soon as possible. All of us embrace the belief that no one should be sent to prison because of their beliefs. Also, I think that there is no one who does not know that in any war, it is the ordinary soldiers and their families who have to suffer the most. That is why no one will argue against the fact that peace is the utmost requirement for any country. It is the desire of the people that their leaders understand that countries which are at peace have more opportunities to develop, and that all fighting should therefore stop as soon as possible. For our part, we will also urge the government to do this as much as we can.

Q:  Under President U Thein Sein’s amnesty order, 6,359 prisoners have been released, but only about 200 of them were political prisoners. Many well-known political activists were not included. Although the government said that elderly persons and persons in bad health would be released, neither ’88 student leader Ko Min Ko Naing nor ’88 student leader Ko Htay Kywe—both of whom are in bad health—were let go. I feel that this amnesty was staged so that the government will be accepted as democratic and so that it can get the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014. I believe a hundred percent that if the present government really wants change, and really wants lasting peace, they must as soon as possible release all political activists who have been imprisoned because of their beliefs.

A:  As I said earlier, it is necessary to release all of those who have been sent to jail because of their beliefs. There is hope for this, because U Ko Ko Hlaing—who is the leader of President U Thein Sein’s advisory group—has said that more prisoners will be released. Time will tell whether or not they are sincere. As for me, I believe in being cautiously optimistic. I believe that one must move that grain of sand and piece of brick by oneself instead of just hoping that problems which have existed for many years will be quickly resolved.

Q:  Although we have the Electronics Act in Burma, it is out of date. What I mean is that we still do not  have a comprehensive law that relates to information technology (IT). I also have not seen any discussion in parliament regarding the IT sector. I think that this is really needed. How can young people who are interested in computer sciences cooperate and work to help bring about this kind of law?

A:  If you want the parliament to pass an Electronics Law, you must talk to your member of parliament. The public has the right to do this, as members of parliament said during their election campaigns that they will work in the interest of the people. It is important to use your rights, and to work effectively to consolidate those rights.

Broadcast on Oct. 21, 2011.


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