Three people in Myanmar were sentenced to prison for giving water to monks on the street. The three are among a wave of prison sentences handed down since the Myanmar authorities violently suppressed demonstrations six months ago.
Amnesty International released details of the sentences on Monday after the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on Friday criticising the human rights situation in the country. The Council urged the Myanmar authorities to release all political prisoners and to take urgent measures to end abuses.
Amnesty International's research revealed that at least 40 protesters, including seven monks, have been given prison sentences. The sentences appear to be politically motivated or on account of protesters’ peaceful exercise of their human rights.
“Not a single sentence has been on account of the otherwise legitimate reasons stated by the authorities, but rather for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly,” said Amnesty International.
Myanmar state media had announced on 7 November 2007 that legal action would be taken against people involved in “violence and terrorist acts in one way or another”. On 3 December, Myanmar Police Chief Khin Yi announced at a press conference that “only those individuals involved in arson or the possession of illegal weapons will be brought to trial.”
“Just as the government of Myanmar has attempted to divert international attention away from last September’s crackdown towards its constitutional referendum, so too has it redirected its suppression of legitimate protest from the public streets into closed courtrooms,” said Amnesty International.
“Just as the referendum is the government’s effort to legitimize military rule in Myanmar, the handing down of prison terms is its attempt to justify its violent crackdown on peaceful dissent.”
At least 700 people arrested during and since the September protests remain behind bars, while 1,150 political prisoners held prior to the protests have not been released.
“The recent sentencing of protestors involved in last September’s crackdown should also be viewed in light of the arbitrary detention of the remaining 660 or more people who have now spent six months behind bars with no end in sight,” said Amnesty International.
In light of the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution, Amnesty International has called on the international community to put pressure on Myanmar to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar to conduct a fact-finding mission in Myanmar immediately.