Myanmar must free prisoners before elections: Amnesty
Amnesty International urged Myanmar to free all political prisoners Thursday ahead of elections in November, as it marked three years since a deadly crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks.
The London-based rights group said more than 2,200 dissidents including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi were still being detained by the military regime -- more than double the number held before the 2007 demonstrations.
"It beggars belief that the government can attempt to burnish its democratic credentials by holding elections, while it also holds more than 2,200 political prisoners behind bars and out of sight of the campaigns and polls," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty's Myanmar researcher.
Myanmar's first elections in 20 years are due to take place on November 7 but critics say they are a sham as the ruling junta has forbidden political prisoners from either voting or from taking part.
Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has also been dissolved ahead of the polls. She led the party to victory in Myanmar's last elections in 1990 but the regime annulled the result.
The 2007 protests began as small rallies against rising fuel and living costs but escalated into huge anti-government protests led by crowds of monks, whose striking attire saw their movement dubbed the "Saffron Revolution".
At least 31 people were killed when Myanmar security forces cracked down on the demonstrators, while hundreds of activists were detained.
"The long-standing problem of political imprisonment in Myanmar remains very much at the heart of the political impasse in the country. These prisoners constitute a significant part of the political opposition," Zawacki said.
© 2010 AFP