Burma remains one of the world’s most repressive and closed societies. Led by a shadowy clique of generals, Burma has been under military rule since 1962. The military government has announced that it will hold the first elections in 20 years in 2010 -as the next step of its “roadmap to democracy.” The generals are hoping that the rest of the world, particularly its main trading partners and diplomatic supporters-China, India, Thailand, Singapore, and Russia-will accept a sham electoral process and treat the government as a legitimate member of the international community.
But instead of addressing Burma’s human rights problems, in the past two years the military government has intensified arrests and intimidation of political activists and government critics. The number of political prisoners has doubled, offices of the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party have been forcibly closed, and freedom of expression, assembly, and association have remained almost nonexistent. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has spent more than 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest. On August 11, 2009, she received a prison sentence of 3 years, based on spurious charges of violating the conditions of her house arrest. This sentence was subsequently reduced to 18 months, to be served under house arrest. Other Burmese activists have been locked up for “crimes” such as providing assistance to cyclone victims and peacefully protesting against forced labor.
In the run-up to the 2010 polls, Human Rights Watch is launching its “2100 by 2010” campaign to press for the release of some 2,100 political prisoners currently held in Burma. The campaign involves the global public and will provide leverage with key governments and United Nations agencies ahead of the 2010 elections, which cannot be considered credible as long as the opposition is in prison.