MANILA, PHILIPPINES – As part of the campaign calling for the release of all political prisoners in Burma, about a hundred solidarity activists from the Free Burma Coalition-Philippines (FBC-Phils) and Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC) today held a protest action in front of the Burma (Myanmar) Embassy in Makati City.

The groups pointed out that the release of all of Burma’s political prisoners is a “crucial step in creating an atmosphere conducive to start a genuine political dialogue in Burma and ASEAN in this regard has a crucial role to play.”

To dramatize their opposition against Burmese laws that usually lead to the’arrest and re-arrest’ of political prisoners, FBC-Philippines and APSOC tore down what they call ‘Burma’s repressive laws’ which according to them still violate the fundamental rights of the peoples of Burma to freedom of assembly, association and expression.

Egoy Bans, spokesperson of the FBC-Phils said, “these repressive laws if not repealed will contradict and jeopardize whatever reform agenda the government of Burma has in mind. A genuine reform must be accompanied by a sincere desire to correct the past mistakes. The immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Burma is a major reform indicator the government of Burma must accomplish.”

Recently, Myanmar Prime Minister U Thein Sein issued two orders for the release of prisoners. 36 political prisoners were released on the 4th of January and a further 300 were released on the 13th. Although the release of political prisoners is undoubtedly a positive action, there are still at least 852 that remain in prison.Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP-Burma), said that it could confirm the prison location and imprisonment details of 415 political prisoners and has still been verifying the whereabouts and imprisonment details of 437 political prisoners who are believed to be in prison.

FBC-Phils and APSOC explained that while the recent release of political prisoners, including a number of journalists and independent bloggers, was an undoubtedly positive measure, the manner in which they were released has led to concerns that the former political prisoners will be prevented from freely expressing their opinions. Those prisoners released on 13 January were freed based on Article 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which provides that “[w]hen any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offence, the President of the Union may at any time, without conditions or upon any conditions which the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced.”

AAPP-B is now asking Prime Minister U Thein Sein to drop the charges recently brought against a prominent Karen leader. Mahn Nyein Maung, a member of the Karen National Union Central Committee, currently under trial facing charges under High Treason (122/1 of the penal code) and the Unlawful Associations Act (17/1).

Bans explained, “our demand to release the remaining political prisoners is just one measuring stick in the entire struggle for genuine democracy in Burma. Obviously, the government should also institute relevant laws that should protect the rights and freedoms of the people in accordance with the existing international norms and standards.”

He concluded, “a partial delivery of democracy that simply provide ‘free taste of reforms’ will not lead to the full exercise of the people’s rights and freedoms.”