The number of currently detained political prisoners has reached more than 13,000, according to the latest figures from Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma.
Under the previous military dictatorship pre 2010 the average was just over 2,000.
“Despite the record number of political prisoners, they barely get mentioned by governments and world leaders,” said Wai Hnin, Senior Advocacy Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “The fact that so many people have been jailed demonstrates the level of fear the Burmese military have of the people of Burma. The Burmese military are afraid for their survival and arrest anyone they see as a threat.”
The number of political prisoners is growing every day as the military continues to arrest peaceful protesters, interfaith writers, celebrities, civilians, and anyone opposing the attempted coup, which began on 1st February last year.
The military is not only carrying out the targeted arrest of individuals whom they might consider a threat because of their activities, but they are also conducting random mass arrests of civilians as a means of trying to instil fear and crush dissent.
The Burmese military has also started using the official death penalty for the first time in decades, executing 4 political prisoners in July 2022. Many more activists have been sentenced to death and are awaiting execution.
Political prisoners are usually held in military-controlled detention centres for a lengthy period before being charged and sent to prison. Many of them face brutal torture, harassment, rape, and sexual violence. Activists from the LGBTQ community face severe torture and harassment purely because of their sexual orientation.
The current number of political prisoners does not include civilians who have been forcibly disappeared in remote ethnic areas and people who have been unlawfully detained in military camps in ethnic areas, where documentation is difficult.
In addition, there is an unknown number of Rohingya political prisoners, who have been arrested and imprisoned for breaking laws and regulations specifically targeting Rohingya as part of the ongoing genocide they face.
Since 1 February, at least 80 journalists have been arrested for reporting on the human rights violations committed by the military. Many civil servants, including doctors, teachers, and nurses, have been arrested for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).
The military also issued warrants and revoked licences for many doctors and nurses for taking part in the CDM. After their release, they will have a criminal record, making it almost impossible to return to their jobs or find new jobs.
Currently, trials are being held inside prison out of public view, and families cannot attend. Trials in Burma are just formalities, and almost all of them will undoubtedly be sentenced under politically motivated charges. The Burmese military arrest, jail, torture and even kill many activists and civilians daily but people in Burma continue to stand up against them.
“These political prisoners bravely stood up against the military coup, but the world seems to have forgotten about them,” said Wai Hnin, Senior Advocacy Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “Many of them are just young students who should be in university but instead, they were brutally tortured and jailed for speaking out. The international community must speak out for these 13,000 political prisoners in Burma, and provide much needed support for families of political prisoners.”