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Political Prisoners (Burma)

Volume 587: debated on Tuesday 28 October 2014

I last raised the subject of political prisoners with Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw in June. We welcome the release of more than 1,000 political prisoners since 2011, but we are concerned by the recent rise in politically motivated arrests and we continue to lobby for the unconditional release of all political prisoners.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He has confirmed that the number of political prisoners in Burma is going up. Will he tell us how many additional political prisoners have been arrested there this year?

Since 8 October, 3,000 petty criminals have been released, as well as 91 in August and 109 in September, including child soldiers. The answer, however, is that one political prisoner in Burma is one too many, and we will continue to make that point to visiting Ministers, who come here fairly regularly these days.

As well as raising the subject of political prisoners, will the Minister also raise the subject of the killing of the journalist Aung Naing by the Burmese army?

I shall certainly raise that matter; we have raised it already, but I shall give the hon. Lady an update on the results of our investigations.

The Minister has rightly raised concerns that the headline figures for the release of political prisoners are perhaps not what they seem. Concerns have been raised about conditions being attached to the release of prisoners, for example, and about the continuing arrests of human rights defenders and journalists. Does he share the concern of the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights about signs of possible backtracking by the Burmese regime? What can we do to ensure that Burma remains on the road to democracy as we approach next year’s elections?

As the hon. Lady knows, we have continuing concerns, not least in Rakhine and Kachin. Only yesterday I was discussing these concerns with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has just been there. The big goal in all this is the parliamentary elections next year. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that they are inclusive and credible elections, from which can flow a better and more democratic Burma for all the component parts of that wonderful country.