Myanmar (Burma)
Urgent Interventions

Myanmar (Burma): release of Dr. Salai Tun Than and 17 other political prisoners

Case MMR 010202.3
Follow-up of Case MMR 010202

Geneva, May 7, 2003

The International Secretariat of OMCT has received new information regarding the following situation in Myanmar.

New information

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Asian Human Rights Commission, a member of the OMCT network, of the release of Dr. Salai Tun Than and 17 other political prisoners in Myanmar (Burma).

According to the information received, Dr Salai Tun Than and seventeen other political prisoners were released on May 4th, 2003. Dr. Than is a 75-year-old retired rector from the Yenzin University. He was arrested on November 29th, 2001, while distributing pamphlets calling for the military regime to return power to civilian rule. Dr. Than was sentenced to seven years and had served 18 months in Insein Prison at the time of his release. Almost all of the released prisoners have been prohibited from engaging in any future political activity. Released prisoners found to be involved in political activities may be re-incarcerated for the remainder of their sentences under Section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

A statement released by the regime indicated that "health and humanitarian concerns" dictated the choices regarding which prisoners were freed. It is believed that there are as many as 1,400 other political prisoners still being detained in the country. The same statement reportedly claimed that: "The releases are the latest in a series of efforts by the government to move Myanmar (Burma) closer to multiparty democracy and national reconciliation."

Speaking to the press, Dr. Than reportedly discussed a two-day hunger strike that he had previously staged. He ended the hunger strike when authorities agreed not to investigate political prisoners who had spoken to international organizations and provided him with a Bible. Dr. Than also stated that the authorities had also become open to dialogue, should he have something to discuss with the government. Dr. Than added that he had no interest in politics and hopes to continue his work on the rural development project.

Dr. Than, an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Georgia, thanked students at those schools for demonstrating for his release. He also thanked all the human rights groups and individuals that had made appeals for his freedom.

The International Secretariat of OMCT welcomes the release of Dr. Salai Tun Than and the other political prisoners. OMCT wishes to take this opportunity to thank all individuals and institutions that intervened on Dr. Than's behalf.

However, OMCT calls for the immediate release of all other political prisoners in the absence of valid legal charges, and if such charges exist, to ensure that they are given prompt and fair trials, in which their procedural rights are guaranteed at all times

Brief reminder of the situation

According to the information received, on November 29th, 2001 Dr. Thun, a 74-year-old retired rector of the Yezin University in Pyinmana (Upper Burma) was arrested following his peaceful protest in front of Rangoon Town Hall. Dr. Than was handing out copies of a petition that called on the military regime to return power to civilian rule. Dr. Thun was calling on the government in his own name, and his petition had no political affiliation. The five points of his request were that the government: (1) hold the multiparty general election within one year; (2) let the election be held by a civilian interim government as soon as possible; (3) let the election be supervised by ASEAN and UN officials; (4) let all the eligible Myanmar citizens who want to contest in the election be able to complete including our military authorities as civilians; and (5) transfer the state power to any winner organization as soon as possible without any condition.

Dr. Than was held incommunicado at in Insein Prison, north of Ranoon. On February 8th, 2002, he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment under Article 5(J) of the 1950 State Emergency Act, by an internal tribunal at Insein Prison. He was finally allowed to receive family visits after his sentencing. Dr. Than suffered from a serious eye condition during his imprisonment, and there have been concerns that he would need an operation to treat this problem.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Myanmar:

i. welcoming the decision to release Dr. Than and the 17 other political prisoners;

and urging them to:

ii. order the immediate release of all the political prisoners who remain in detention in the absence of valid legal charges that are in line with international law, or, if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times;
iii. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.

Note: you may encounter problems with the following fax numbers and e-mails, so please ensure that you send a copy of your letters to the Ambassador in Geneva (see below).

· Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman, State Peace and Development Council, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Defence, Signal Pagoda road, Dagon Post Office, Yangon, Myanmar, Fax: + 95 1 652 624
§ Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, Secretary 1, State Peace and Development Council, c/o Ministry of Defense, Signal Pagoda Road, Yangon, Myanmar, Fax: 95 1 222 950
§ U Win Aung, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yangon, Myanmar, Email:
§ Ambassador U Mya Than, Av. Blanc 47, CH-1202, Genève, Suisse, e-mail:, fax: +4122 738 48 82

Please also write to the embassies of Myanmar in your respective country.

Geneva, May 7th, 2003

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.