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UN Rights Envoy Urges Burma to Free Dissidents Before Elections

March 16, 2009

A United Nations human rights investigator says Burma’s military rulers should free more than 2,100 political prisoners they are holding before elections next year.

Tomas Ojea Quintana says Burma must release prisoners of conscience to ensure the election and its aftermath comply with international standards of a democratic society. His recommendation is part of report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Quintana says Burma’s government should not impose conditions on released dissidents, such as making them sign statements renouncing the right to political activism. He also says prisoners awaiting release should be spared from cruel treatment and receive urgent medical care.

The U.N. special rapporteur based his report on a visit to Burma last month. He says he found that many dissidents were sentenced in close-door hearings without legal representation, without the presence of relatives and without proof of evidence or with defective evidence.

Quintana also says reliable sources informed him that lawyers defending dissidents were imprisoned for contempt of court — an offense that Burmese law leaves open to interpretation by the courts.

Burma’s military rulers released 6,313 prisoners last month in a general amnesty, including 29 prisoners of conscience. Qintana says the release of the dissidents is welcome but lacks proportionality.

The most prominent of the remaining 2,100 political prisoners is opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 13 of the last 19 years.

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