WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed satisfaction that the government of Burma has released prisoners of conscience Pwint Phyu Latt and Zaw Zaw Latt. They were released along with more than 250 other prisoners Burma’s government freed as part of a presidential amnesty.
USCIRF Vice Chairman Daniel Mark, who has advocated on behalf of Pwint Phyu Latt and Zaw Zaw Latt, stated that he “welcomed this long-overdue step by Burma’s government. Pwint Phyu Latt and Zaw Zaw Latt, both Muslim, were wrongfully imprisoned for their interfaith activities. Although I welcome and applaud their release, the fact remains that they never should have been imprisoned in the first place. I hope their release signals a more positive trajectory for the freedom of religion or belief in Burma.”
Vice Chairman Mark took up the case of Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. This project highlights the plight of individuals who have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs, practices, or identity and the laws and practices that led to their imprisonment.
At an event in Washington, DC last week for the release of the USCIRF 2017 Annual Report, Vice Chairman Mark cited the case of these interfaith advocates as a dramatic example of a country using security laws to crack down on those pressing for religious freedom. He highlighted that the Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act, one of the laws under which Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt had been detained and sentenced, had been repealed, yet they were not released and their sentences were not reduced. Their initial sentence was, in fact, extended in 2016 by two years of hard labor on the same day that more than 100 other prisoners were amnestied.
Vice Chairman Mark called on “the government of Burma to repeal repressive laws and policies that target individuals for peaceful dissent and expression and abide by international human rights standards and the rule of law.”
Although the 2017 USCIRF report noted a historic and peaceful transition of government in Burma in 2016, the Commission still recommended that the U.S. State Department designate Burma as a “Country of Particular Concern.” This recommendation is due to the government perpetrating or tolerating religious freedom violations that are “systematic, ongoing, and egregious,” with the most famous example being the abysmal treatment of the Rohingya Muslims in that country.
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