Background of AAPP

History of AAPP

AAPP was founded on March 23, 2000, the 11th anniversary of the arrest of Min Ko Naing, a student leader and prominent figure during the 1988 uprising who spent nineteen years in prison. From 2000 to the present day, AAPP has based its headquarters in Mae Sot, Thailand, due to the exile of most AAPP team members. AAPP has successfully adapted to the on-going political transformations within Burma. Since 2012, Burma has released a great number of political prisoners and most of the former political prisoners involved with AAPP have now been removed from the Burmese government’s blacklist, which has allowed us to open two more AAPP offices within Burma, one in Rangoon and the other in Mandalay. As such, AAPP saw an opportunity to further develop efficient nation-wide assistance programs in order to meet the needs of those released. From its formation in January 2013, AAPP has been a key member of the Committee for Scrutinizing the Remaining Political Prisoners (CSRPP) and continues to campaign for the release of all remaining political prisoners. At the beginning of 2014, despite the claims of President Thein Sein, AAPP still held records of 31 political prisoners behind bars and at least a further 160 activists still facing trial. This number has increased throughout 2014 and arrests and imprisonments show no sign of abating.

The original CSRPP process was ended at the beginning of 2015. Despite AAPP’s dedication and central role in the CSRPP, the government chose to exclude AAPP from the new body, the Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee, formed in January 2015. Whether or not AAPP has been included is not the most pressing concern, but it remains to be seen how much more ability this new committee will have to achieve the goal of freedom for all political prisoners.

Historical Context

Since the peaceful, student led uprisings of 1988 and the brutal crackdown on the demonstrations that followed, the regime in Burma has sought to stifle any opposition within the country. Accordingly, freedom of expression has been non-existent. Many activists who participated in the 1988 demonstrations were arrested. Others endured long, harsh prison sentences while the regime has continued to arrest and incarcerate political activists to this day.

The Saffron Revolution in 2007,  led by Buddhist monks, saw hundreds of thousands of people protesting against the regime and a huge increase in the numbers of political prisoners. Even today, despite the progress made under the Thein Sein government, the country is still institutionally dominated by the military that has brutally repressed democratic opposition since 1988. Despite the ever changing guise of the regime—from the one-party state under the Burmese Socialist Party Program (BSPP) to the military dictatorship of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC, later the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)) and finally to the military backed government of Thein Sein—opposition groups struggle in a landscape dominated by the regime. Due to this intolerance, journalists, political activists, ethnic nationalists and human rights defenders risk imprisonment as a result of their political beliefs and activities. Not only can they be handed harsh sentences, but their treatment while being detained is deplorable. They are often tortured during interrogation to elicit false confessions and are imprisoned in remote locations, far away from their families, making visits from family difficult.

In 2011, the nominally civilian Thein Sein administration initiated a series of political prisoner releases. One major release that took place on January 13, 2012 is seen as a watershed in Burma’s democratic aspirations. Hundreds of political prisoners were released in one fell swoop, including a high proportion of prominent activists such as 88 Generation leaders Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, journalists Zaw Htet Htwe and Hla Hla Win, monk leader U Gambira, and Shan ethnic leader Khun Htun Oo. While the releases of political prisoners are celebrated, they continue to be released into an environment that represses basic civil and political liberties where the threat of re-arrest is ever present. In 2013, AAPP helped secure a total of 380 releases of political prisoners (336 prisoners under amnesty and 44 were released under regular court decision).

Legal Climate within Burma

Although AAPP celebrates the release of political prisoners, they are released under conditions regulated by Section 401 of Burma’s Code of Criminal Procedures. This section essentially allows authorities wide and vague powers to re-arrest those released without warrant—for an explanation of Section 401 please see the following:

Definition of Article 401 (406kb)

Many political prisoners in the past, as well as today, are indicted under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law. This law requires individuals and groups to secure permission from their local police chief prior to holding a demonstration. However, authorities may arbitrarily deny any planned demonstration if they fear that it may breach state security, rule of law and/or public tranquility. In February 2014, a bill proposed to parliament to amend Section 18 was unsuccessful, as only minor changes were made. Section 18 still remains active and represents a constant threat to basic human rights, such as the right to freedom of expression and the rights to peaceful assembly and association. For more information on the laws used to arrest political prisoners please see the following document:

Laws Used Against Activists