The jailing of peaceful activists, restrictions on free speech, discrimination and the political disenfranchisement of minority groups – in particular the persecuted Rohingya– seriously undermine elections in Myanmar, Amnesty International said ahead of the vote on 8 November.
In the month leading up to the historic poll, at least 19 new prisoners of conscience have been jailed, bringing the total that Amnesty International is aware of to 110 – the real number is likely to be much higher – while hundreds of others charged are awaiting trial on bail.
“Voters in Myanmar will go to the polls in a country where thousands might attend Aung San Suu Kyi’s rallies, but others are handed jail terms simply for speaking out or protesting peacefully. Those in charge might claim that the country is on the path to reform, but in fact a targeted clampdown on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly has only intensified,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Campaigns Director.
Last month, Amnesty International released a briefing documenting Myanmar’s “new generation” of prisoners of conscience who have fallen victim to the increasing clampdown.
“Authorities laid the ground for repressing activism around the elections months ago. Their actions have ensured that those voices considered ‘undesirable’ are silenced behind bars, and created aclimate of fear so that those critical of the government think twice before speaking out,” said Josef Benedict.
For hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and others, having their opinions heard during the election is not even an option, as they have been effectively disenfranchised.
Stripped of the Temporary Registration Cards – also known as “white cards” – earlier this year, they will be unable to cast their vote on Sunday, despite having been able to participate in the 2010 and 2012 elections. Many Muslims and Rohingya election candidates have also been disqualified on discriminatory grounds, while authorities have failed to address advocacy of hatred and incitement to discrimination and violence against Muslims.
“The effective exclusion of Rohingya from the election points to serious and entrenched discrimination and should raise alarm bells with the international community. It is a clear indication that the authorities in Myanmar are not committed to addressing the situation of the Rohingya in a way which will respect their dignity and human rights,” said Josef Benedict.
On 6 November – just two days before the elections – Myanmar’s human rights record will be assessed under the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. It is crucial that the international community uses this opportunity to push the Myanmar authorities to address serious human rights concerns in the country.
“While Sunday’s election marks an important moment in Myanmar’s history, the real test of the authorities’ commitment to human rights reforms will come in the days, weeks, months and years after the polling stations have closed,” said Josef Benedict.