YANGON — Amnesty International on Thursday urged Aung San Suu Kyi and her party's new government to release all political prisoners when they take office next week, saying it is a historic opportunity for Myanmar to break away from the repression of the former junta rule.
"Myanmar's legal framework reads like a textbook of repression, and authorities have in recent years increasingly used it to silence dissent," Champa Patel, Amnesty International's Southeast Asia director, told reporters.
The report, based on interviews with human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, and prisoners of conscience and their families, documents the widespread crackdown on political opponents in the past two years. It said the government has relied on draconian laws and other intimidating tactics to silence dissent.
Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy party to a historic win in the Nov. 8 elections, and will replace a nominally-civilian, military-backed government that has been in power since 2011. Before that, Myanmar was ruled by the military since 1962.
During that time, the junta kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for several years, and jailed hundreds of her supporters and other critics. While the government has released many such detainees in batches over the years, some remain in jails.
Amnesty International says it knows of almost 100 political prisoners still behind bars, while hundreds of other activists are in detention or waiting for their trials to end.
There was no immediate comment, either from the outgoing government or Suu Kyi's party.
Amnesty called on the new government to immediately release all prisoners of conscience, set up a panel to review all cases and ensure no peaceful activists are imprisoned, and to amend or repeal all laws used to crack down on human rights.
Still, questions remain if the NLD will have the power to improve human rights given that the constitution puts the military in charge of several key institutions, including the Home Affairs Ministry, which oversees the police.
Legal loopholes are used to hand out lengthy jail sentences to activists and ensure that they are kept off the streets.
Among them is Htin Kyaw, who is serving 13 years and 10 months for distributing leaflets criticizing the government. He was charged with the same offence separately in all 11 townships where he handed out the leaflets.
Story: Esther Htusan / Associated Press