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Amnesty International Report (r)

October 20, 1997
  The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC, Myanmar's military
government) has shown a cynical contempt for the basic human rights of the
Burmese people and for calls by the international community to improve its
human rights record. Since the first United Nations (UN) General Assembly
resolution was adopted on Myanmar in 1992, the SLORC has made almost no
progress in implementing any of the recommendations made by the UN.
Although some prisoners of conscience have been released since 1992, scores
more have taken their place in prisons throughout the country. Repression of
ethnic minorities continues unabated by the SLORC, in spite of 15 cease-fire
agreements with armed ethnic minority groups. Radical restrictions on the
rights to freedom of speech, assembly and movement remain in place for all
citizens in Myanmar. 
     In 1997 the SLORC continued to use short term arrests as a tactic  to
intimidate political activists, a tactic employed since their seizure of
power in 1988. Hundreds of political activists, most of them members of the
National League for Democracy (NLD), the largest legal opposition political
party, were arrested in the first six months of 1997. Although the majority
of these people were held for brief periods, at least 57 others were
sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.  Renewed NLD activity since the
release of party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995 has been matched by
increasing repression of party  members by Military Intelligence (MI).   
     On 23 July 1997 Myanmar was formally admitted into the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at its summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Since Myanmar became an ASEAN member, non-governmental organizations and
ASEAN dialogue partners  have urged ASEAN nations  to pursue the issue of
human rights in Myanmar with their new regional partner, but no improvements
have been forthcoming. ASEAN members had encouraged the SLORC to enter into
a dialogue with the NLD, and on 17 July just before the summit Lieutenant
General Khin Nyunt, SLORC Secretary 1, met with NLD chairman U Aung Shwe,
raising hopes that talks would begin. The NLD continued to call for a
dialogue, but stated that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi must be included.  On 16
September the SLORC announced that the U Aung Shwe on behalf of the party
had withdrawn from a meeting that day because she had not been included. 
     On 12 September the NLD announced that they would be holding a large
party congress on 27-28 September to mark the ninth anniversary of its
founding. The NLD formally applied to the authorities for permission to hold
the meeting, which was granted by the Yangon (Rangoon) Division Law and
Order Restoration Council Chairman. The Chairman told the NLD that only 300
participants could attend and that the meeting must be conducted in a
"peaceful and orderly manner".  In spite of widespread fears that the SLORC
would arrest NLD members who attempted to attend the meeting, as they had
done on three previous occasions, no arrests were known to have taken place.
However on Sunday 28 September some 30 NLD members in the vicinity of Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi's compound, the meeting's venue, were forced into trucks by
the security forces and dropped on the outskirts of Yangon. Several hundred
other NLD members were turned away by Military Intelligence personnel and
riot police from the gates of the compound. According to reports there was
also large presence of Union Solidarity Democracy Association (USDA, a
SLORC-organized citizens' group) members. Nevertheless over 700 people
attended the meeting, which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi hailed as the most
successful in the NLD's history. She also thanked the SLORC for allowing the
meeting to take place.
     This year also saw continuing widespread repression by the SLORC of
ethnic minority civilians.  Thousands of Rohingyas, Muslims from the Rakhine
(Arakan) State, fled from poverty, forcible relocations and forced labour
into neighbouring Bangladesh.  A forcible relocation program in early 1997
in the Shan State caused tens of thousands of ethnic minorities to flee into
Thailand.  In February the SLORC launched a large offensive against the
Karen National Union (KNU), the last major armed ethnic minority group not
to have agreed a cease-fire, which resulted in some 20,000 civilians fleeing
from fighting and human rights violations into Thailand. Refugees from the
Shan, Karenni, and Karen ethnic minority groups provided detailed
information about extrajudicial executions, forced labour and portering, and
forcible relocations accompanied by cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
     This report provides an update on political imprisonment in Myanmar
during the first nine months of 1997. It concludes with recommendations to
the UN General Assembly and the SLORC.
  Reliable reports during the early part of 1997 indicated that NLD members
were subjected to harassment and intimidation in the form of short-term
arrests, pressure to resign from the party, and orders for  local NLD
offices to remove their signboards.  Members were threatened with job loss
and denial of medical care and education for their families if they did not
resign. The SLORC also continued to put pressure on NLD members of
parliament-elect to resign from both the party and from their positions.  At
the time of writing over 45 MPs-elect have reportedly resigned.  
     In January the SLORC announced that 14 people, including five NLD
members, were sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for involvement in
student-led protests in December 1996.  They were sentenced on 27 January at
the Insein Township Court under the provisions of the 1950 Emergency
Provisions Act after being "found guilty of agitation and throwing rocks at
security personnel during the student unrest last December".  On 18 January
it was announced that twenty people, including 14 NLD members, had also been
sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.  Amnesty International has not been
able to obtain the names of those who were sentenced or any further details,
but fears that they did not receive a trial which upheld international
standards for  fairness.  Political trials in Myanmar fall far short of
international fair trial standards, which  include the right to legal
counsel, the right to call witnesses for the defence, and the right to an
open trial.    
      Access to the compound of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continued to be
extremely limited. Those few who were allowed to enter were made to register
with Military Intelligence personnel at the gate.  Since September 1996  the
NLD has not been allowed to hold its weekend public gatherings.  However the
SLORC permitted the party to hold a ceremony on 12 February 1997 to
commemorate the 50th anniversary of Union Day, when the Panglong Agreement
was signed by some ethnic minorities.  Scores of  NLD members  who had
either attempted to make their way to Yangon to attend the ceremony at Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi's compound, or those who had actually attended the event
were arrested by the authorities.  Some of these people were detained for a
short time; however, others received prison sentences of up to two years. 
     The SLORC also targeted NLD members by charging them with criminal
offences and sentencing them to long terms of imprisonment.  On 12 April
1997 Dr. Than Aung, NLD MP for Mingalataungnyunt township, was sentenced to
four years' imprisonment for alleged medical malpractice. He was arrested on
21 February 1997 and charged under Section 304(a) of the Penal Code, which
pertains to causing a person's death through negligence. According to
opposition sources he treated a man who was suffering from  advanced
tuberculosis and then sent him to the emergency room of Yangon General
Hospital. The person died on his way to the hospital. On 23 May U Myo Khin,
the 39-year-old NLD Yankin township secretary in Yangon Division, was
sentenced to four years' imprisonment by the Yankin Township Court after his
arrest on 12 May. According to the SLORC, he "had made fraudulent
alterations in the family registration list and the citizen registration
card." In Myanmar these two official documents are used by the SLORC to
control the movement of  population.  For example if anyone is found staying
in a house whose name is not on the family registration list, the
householder can be prosecuted for failing to report the guest to the local
authorities. Although U Myo Khin and Dr. Than Aung were convicted of
criminal offences, Amnesty International believes that the arrests and
prosecution of the two men were motivated solely by their leadership roles
in a legal political opposition party and not for any recognizable criminal
act or commission. 
  The Events of May 1997
  On 21 May 1997 the NLD announced that some 50 senior members of their
party had been arrested in the run-up to a party meeting on 27 May to
celebrate their election victory that day in 1990.  Members of
parliament-elect and other party leaders were detained as they made their
way from their homes around the country to Yangon.  Other party leaders from
outside Yangon were warned not to attempt to travel to the meeting, although
they were apparently not arrested  if  they complied with the SLORC demand.
Two hundred MP's-elect and 100 party organizers had been invited to the
meeting, some of whom managed to arrive at the home compound of Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi before being arrested. Preliminary meetings of NLD members were held
on 23 May at the compound. 
     On 22 May the SLORC made a public statement about the arrests, saying:
     "It is a very obvious political movement by the NLD to create unnecessary
       problems in the country and also by forcing the government to take strong
       measures against them so that the anti-government propaganda can be
       played in their favour."
  The next day the SLORC denied that arrests had been made, claiming that:
"[t]here are instances where local authorities have requested some invited
party members to refrain from taking the course of action which is geared to
create chaos in the country."  During previous mass arrests of NLD members
in 1996 the SLORC said that they did not arrest people, but rather "invited"
them for questioning at government guesthouses.
     The meeting took place as scheduled on 27 May, although only 10 NLD
executive committee members were allowed into Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's
compound. Other NLD members, diplomats and journalists who were invited to
the opening ceremony were turned away by a large group of security forces in
the area.  The authorities also blocked the entrances to the NLD
headquarters in Yangon as well as the homes of senior NLD leaders U Tin U
and U Kyi Maung.  SLORC officials claimed that the NLD had not sought
permission from them to hold the meeting and was deliberately provoking the
arrests. The  NLD issued a statement repeating its call for dialogue with
the SLORC.
       NLD sources said that in total 316 people, including 50 MPs elect,
were detained in advance of the meeting.  However it is unclear if this
number represents people who were actually detained or includes those who
were warned to stay in their homes during the meeting.  According to the
NLD, by 6 June all of those who had been detained were released.  Other
sources indicate that the detainees, who were treated well, were held at
government guesthouses.
          The arrests echoed the events of May 1996, when over 260 NLD
members of parliament-elect were arrested by the authorities in a
pre-emptive move to prevent an anniversary meeting from taking place. The
news of the 1997 arrests also came one day after the USA signed into law
economic sanctions which prevented any new US investment in Myanmar. The
arrests evoked international criticism from both non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) and governments, including the USA, Japan, the UK and
other European countries. 
  Arrests and trials of NLD members and trade unionists, June - August
  On 19 June the NLD announced that five NLD members, including three
cousins of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, had been arrested in Yangon.  Khin Maung
Win alias Ko Sunny, the official NLD photographer; Cho Aung Than, Daw Suu's
first cousin  and former assistant; Daw Khin Ma Than (f) alias Nge Ma Ma
Than, his sister; U Shwe Myint Aung, alias Myint Swe, her husband; and U Ohn
Myint, a veteran politician and NLD advisor were arrested, allegedly for
obtaining a videotape of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and arranging for it to be
taken out of the country.  Reports about the exact date of their arrests
vary, but the five were believed to have been arrested beginning on 13 June.
U Ohn Myint was released in mid-June.
     On 13 June Myo Aung Thant, an executive committee member of the
Federation of Trade Unions - Burma (FTUB), was arrested at Mingaladon
international airport, Yangon, by National Intelligence Bureau personnel on
his return from Thailand. His wife and children were also reportedly
arrested at the same time but it is not known if they are still held.  U
Khin Kyaw, also an executive committee member of the FTUB, and his wife were
arrested later that day at their home in Yangon. The FTUB is not legally
recognized in Myanmar, where  independent trade union activity is completely
prohibited.  It was formed in 1991 by trade union members who were
reportedly dismissed from their jobs and harassed by the SLORC because of
their trade union activities. 
     According to FTUB sources, the two detained trade unionists had been
documenting economic and social hardships, including the widespread use of
forced labour in Myanmar, and passing the information to the international
trade union movement.  Myo Aung Thant is a member of the All Burma
Petro-Chemical Corporation Union, formed during the 1988 pro-democracy
movement.  U Khin Kyaw is a member of the underground Seaman's Union of Burma.  
     The Government of Myanmar is party to the International Labour
Organisation (ILO) Convention No 87 on freedom of association and the right
to collective bargaining. Over the past several years the ILO has been
concerned with the SLORC's non-compliance with Convention No 87 and at the
June 1997 ILO Conference, Myanmar's failure to implement this convention was
identified as a situation of particular gravity and a case of  continued
failure to implement the convention.    
     On 27 June 1997 Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt spoke about the arrests
of these six political prisoners during a press conference. He began his
speech by saying: "Today's press conference, is being held for the purpose
of relating and recounting to the people, the vile and vicious drama of
terrorism staged in the name of democracy and  human rights." He claimed
that Myo Aung Thant in conjunction with Maung Maung alias Pyit Thit Nyunt
Wai, who lives in Thailand, recruited Cho Aung Than, his sister Nge Ma Ma
Than and her  husband Myint Swe to pass money to the NLD. According to
General Khin Nyunt, this money came from organizations funded by the US
Government.  He also asserted that in March 1997 the four, along with Ko
Sunny, had helped to produce a video of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in which she
appealed on behalf of the Karen refugees who had fled to Thailand. The
video, showing her in Karen national dress,  was smuggled out of the country. 
     General Khin Nyunt went on to explain that Myo Aung Thant and Khin Kyaw
had attended a meeting in  Ranong, southern Thailand on 4 June 1997, which
he claimed was convened by Maung Maung in order to plan "terrorist" attacks,
such as bombing the Chinese and Indonesian embassies in Yangon and
assassinating an unnamed SLORC leader. However the"plot" was thwarted when
Myo Aung Thant was arrested at the airport in Yangon and explosives were
seized in Kawthaung, Myanmar.  Maung Maung later denied his involvement and
the involvement of Khin Kyaw and Myo Aung Thant.
     Two explosions had  occurred in Yangon during the six months preceding
the press conference.  On 25 December 1996 the Kaba Aye Pagoda was bombed,
killing five people. At the time the Karen National Union and the All Burma
Students Democratic Front (ABSDF, an armed student opposition group) were
blamed by the SLORC for the attack. In April 1997 a parcel bomb delivered to
the home of General Tin U, SLORC Secretary 2, exploded and killed his
daughter. In the 27 June press conference Khin Nyunt blamed the  latter
incident on expatriate Burmese dissident groups, although no arrests were
known to have been made in relation to the incident.  
     On 17 August 1997 the SLORC announced that Cho Aung Than, Myint Swe,
and Nge Ma Ma Than received sentences of 10 years' imprisonment on 15 August
at the Insein Special Court.  According to the announcement, the three were
sentenced to three years' imprisonment for "breaching" the 1908 Unlawful
Associations Act and seven years' imprisonment under the 1950 Emergency
Provisions Act.  The vaguely-worded provisions of these two laws are
frequently used by the SLORC to sentence activists to long terms of
imprisonment for their peaceful political activities. Amnesty International
believes that Cho Aung Than, Myint Swe, and Nge Ma Ma Than are prisoners of
conscience, detained solely for their involvement in the NLD, a political
party which has consistently espoused non-violence.
     On 9 October Amnesty International learned that Cho Aung Than was in
Yangon General Hospital, and issued an urgent appeal to the SLORC for him to
receive proper medical care. On 10 October the government stated that prison
doctors decided to hospitalize him on 26 September for high blood pressure
and denied that his condition was serious. The SLORC also stated that they
were improving prison conditions in Myanmar and upgrading prison health
facilities.  Amnesty International welcomes these initiatives, as poor
prison conditions have been a long-standing concern in Myanmar.   
     On 15 August Myo Aung Thant was "sentenced to Transportation for Life
for committing High Treason, (3) years imprisonment for breaching the
Unlawful Associations Act and another (7) years under the Emergency
Provisions Act" at Insein Special Court.  Article 57 of  Chapter III of the
1957 Burmese Penal Code defines transportation for life as: "equivalent to
transportation for twenty years".  According to unofficial sources, the
trial  took place in less than ten days and was held in closed sessions.
Political trials in Myanmar are generally held in camera, and the accused
rarely have access to legal counsel of their choice.  Amnesty International
is concerned that Myo Aung Thant did not receive a trial in accordance with
fair trial standards.  Information about the whereabouts and status of Ko
Sunny and Khin Kyaw is not known, but Amnesty International fears for their
safety, as torture is common in Myanmar's prisons. 
     Amnesty International remains concerned by the SLORC's use of both
short-term detention and long sentences of imprisonment as methods to
repress peaceful political activities in Myanmar.  In spite of the fact that
from 1992 -1995 the authorities reportedly released over 2,000 political
prisoners, there are well over 1,200 political prisoners currently held
throughout the country. Their numbers are growing steadily, particularly
since the SLORC's renewed crackdown on the NLD beginning in 1996.
Ninety-three of these are prisoners of conscience and hundreds more are
possible prisoners of conscience, about  whom Amnesty International is
seeking further information.  
  Prison conditions in Myanmar are characterized by overcrowding and lack of
proper food, sanitation, and medical care. Both political and criminal
prisoners are subjected to harsh prison regimes, and torture during initial
interrogation is common.  After political prisoners have been sentenced they
are normally allowed to see their families every two weeks, who can provide
them with additional food and medicine. However if prisoners have no family
or if they are in a prison which is located far away from their homes, they
often do not  receive anything to supplement their meagre diet.  Political
prisoners are also subject to severe physical punishment if they break
arbitrary prison rules, such as prohibition of all reading materials.
     In November 1995 29 political prisoners, many of them NLD leaders, were
placed in tiny cells in Insein Prison meant to house military dogs and
deprived of blankets and sufficient food and water.  They received this
treatment because they had attempted to send information about poor prison
conditions to the United Nations. Two of them have subsequently died in
custody. U Win Tin, a 67-year-old writer and one of the founding members of
the NLD who has been imprisoned since July 1989, was placed in a military
dog cell for an extended period at that time.  He suffers from a heart
condition and spondylitis and was hospitalized in mid-1997. He was
hospitalized again on 19 September for cardiac problems, and on 9 October
Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal to the SLORC to provide him
with proper medical care. The SLORC subsequently claimed that he was not in
critical condition, but had been transferred to Yangon General Hospital so
that his health would improve more rapidly.   U Win Tin is a prisoner of
     Dr. Aung Khin Sint, a medical doctor, NLD member of parliament-elect
and prisoner of conscience, is also in poor health.  He has been
hospitalized since 11 June 1997, suffering from heart problems, diabetes,
and high blood pressure.  Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal to
the SLORC on 9 October about his condition; the SLORC responded that his
condition was not critical.  Dr. Aung Khin Sint was originally arrested in
August 1993 and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.  He was released in
February 1995, but rearrested in July 1996 and is believed to be serving the
remainder of his sentence.
     In April and May 1997 at least 51 political prisoners were reportedly
transferred  to prisons in  areas far from their homes. These prisons are:
Mandalay and Myinkyan Prisons, Mandalay Division; Myitkyina and Machanbaw
Prisons, Kachin State; Tharawaddy and Taungoo Prisons, Bago Division;
Myaungmya Prison; Insein Prison, Yangon Division; Pathein and Thaytmyo
Prisons, Ayeyarwady Division. Conditions at Myitkyina Prison, in  the far
north of the country, are reportedly particularly harsh.  There are no
prison doctors and medication is in short supply.  Prisoners often suffer
from anaemia and are not protected against the cold weather.
     Among those transferred from Insein to Myitkyina Prison is  Khin Zaw
Win alias Kelvin, arrested in 1994 for attempting to pass information to the
UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.  He was also one of the 29 prisoners
placed in military dog cells for extended periods of time.  Khin Zaw Win was
reportedly badly tortured in early 1996 and his health has subsequently
deteriorated. U Win Htein, a former army officer and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's
press secretary who was arrested in May 1996, was transferred from Insein to
Myingyan Prison. He is also believed to be in poor health.  Amnesty
International considers both men to be prisoners of conscience and has grave
concerns about the state of their health.
     Deaths in custody of political prisoners continue to be  regularly
reported and Amnesty International has documented the cases of 20 deaths
since the SLORC came to power in 1988.  Most of the deaths appear to have
been caused by ill-treatment or lack of proper medical care.  Such was the
case with U Tin Shwe,  a 67-year-old  lawyer, prominent writer and member of
the NLD central committee. U Tin Shwe, one of the founding members of the
NLD, was imprisoned for calling for parliament to be convened after the NLD
landslide victory in the 1990 general elections.  When he was arrested in
late 1990 he was reportedly in good health. In November 1995 he was one of
the 29 political  prisoners confined in tiny military dog cells. By April
1997 he was  suffering from a serious heart condition. That month his family
asked the authorities if he could receive treatment at Yangon General
Hospital but the SLORC refused their request.  Although there is a hospital
inside Insein Prison, it has extremely limited facilities. On 23 April U
Aung Shwe, NLD Chairman, wrote to General Than Shwe, the SLORC chairman,
calling for U Tin Shwe to receive proper treatment and stating that the NLD
would hold the authorities  responsible if anything happened to him.  On 8
June 1997 U Tin Shwe died from a heart attack in his cell at Insein Prison.
Amnesty International is concerned that ill-treatment in the military dog
cells in late 1995 and a lack of proper medical treatment contributed to his
     The health of political prisoners is also placed at risk by forced
labour.  In the past five years hundreds of thousands of civilians,
including political and criminal prisoners, have been forced to work on
roads, dams, railway lines and other state-sponsored infrastructure
projects. Reliable  reports indicate that prisoners must work while chained
and in harsh conditions, characterized by long working hours and
insufficient food, water, and medical care.  On 22 July 1997 at a meeting of
the Prisons Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Lieutenant General
Mya Thin, the Minister for Home Affairs, recommended
  the use of prison labour to develop the country.  A report of the meeting
quoted him as saying:
     "...the persons serving sentences at prisons constitute a considerable
       force. They too are members of the public but their performance gets

       wasted in the prisons, he said.  He spoke of the need to make use of
       working abilities in nation-building work.  He said the Prisons
       is involved in agriculture and livestock breeding and quarry as well as
       regional development projects."     
  Amnesty International had previously received reliable reports that
chained prisoners were widely used in quarrying stone and working in
agriculture projects.  It is concerned that these prisoners have been
subjected to conditions constituting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,
and in light of the recent SLORC comment,  fears that the use of prison
labour under such conditions will increase in Myanmar.  The ILO is currently
carrying out a Commission of Enquiry into forced labour in Myanmar, since
the SLORC is failing to implement the provisions of Convention No 29 to
which it is a party.
  For the last nine years the international community has repeatedly called
on the SLORC to improve Myanmar's human rights record.  However frustrated
by the lack of responsiveness on the part of the SLORC, it has never been
more important to sustain and increase this pressure, especially as Myanmar
is brought into broader international contact through its membership in
ASEAN. Amnesty International calls on the 52nd UN General Assembly to adopt
a strong resolution on Myanmar. The resolution should call on the SLORC to:  
  -  release all 93 prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally;
  -  improve prison conditions in Myanmar and, as a first step, grant
immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to
all prisoners in the country;  
  - either charge all political prisoners with recognizably criminal
offences and try them in accordance with international standards for fair
trial, or release them immediately ;

  - grant immediate and complete access to the UN Special Rapporteur on
Myanmar, in accordance with his mandate. Since his appointment in 1996 he
has not been permitted to visit Myanmar.