What Next for Burma’s Political Prisoners

The timing couldn’t have been better. On the day the farcical amnesty by Burma’s government saw just 36 political prisoners released we had the perfect opportunity to deliver and repeat Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s own message that thousands still remain behind bars and that their release is fundamental to national reconciliation and Burma’s future.

Images of former political prisoners shown at the Brighton Festival curated by Aung San Suu Kyi

This year’s Brighton Festival is being directed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from afar and conducted on the ground with the help of Burma Campaign UK who have been instrumental in putting on a number of events to raise profile and the issues of Burma. One event being the “What Next For Burma” debate that we attended last night with friends and family and at the request of the festival directors, projected the faces of more than 200 former political prisoners onto the huge screen in front of an audience of more than 500 who had come to hear an authoritative discussion on Burma’s Future. An exclusive first showing of The Lady’s own portrait adorned the screen throughout the informative talk whilst the esteemed panel chaired by Polly Toynbee and accompanied by Sue Lloyd Roberts, former ambassador Robert Gordon, Peter Popham and Mark Farmaner & Zoya Phan from the Burma Campaign UK who discussed with vigour the issues of sanctions, China and two Burma’s. Without the inclusion of an alternative viewpoint such as that of Derek Tonkin and the like, the debate was able to be more informative for the audience rather than become a political war-ground that ends up revolving around arguments on sanctions, investment and opposing viewpoints – in actuality issues that were succinctly dealt with by Mark Farmaner on several occasions. This format was therefore more suited to what is after all an ‘Arts Festival’, but perhaps at the same time one left unsure of what is really next for Burma especially on this day when yet another obscene gesture from the Burmese government defies global demands to release all political prisoners immediately.

The first news we had of the release of political prisoners came early in the morning with a text confirming one person released from Thayet, soon to be followed by murmurings that Zayar Thaw was also released, which was later confirmed by GW friends. In all, yet another gesture that cannot even be deemed ‘token’. It is a sure sign if ever one was needed that this is still a country under the supreme control of a brutal military machine that has no care for any opposition to its authoritarian rule and takes no heed of half-baked condemnation and demands from the UN and others. So, What next for Burma?

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