Global Campaign Launched to Free Burma’s Political Prisoners

March 16, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

A Burmese citizen living in Japan holds a portrait of detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally near the Myanmar Embassy in Tokyo on March 13, 2009, the 21st anniversary of Burma's Human Rights Day. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
A Burmese citizen living in Japan holds a portrait of detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally near the Myanmar Embassy in Tokyo on March 13, 2009, the 21st anniversary of Burma's Human Rights Day. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
With the release from house arrest of Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi due to occur on May 24, a campaign for the release of more than 21,000 other political prisoners in Burma has been kicked off worldwide.

Launched on March 13, Burma's Human Rights Day, the campaign aims to gather 888,888 signatures before May 29. This number symbolizes 8.8.88, the date Burma’s military junta massacred approximately 3,000 people in the country’s largest democracy uprising.

The petition calls on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to “make it his personal priority” to secure the release of all political prisoners in Burma as a first step in moving the country toward national reconciliation and democratization.

“Political prisoners are not criminals—they have simply stood up for freedom and democracy,” said Tate Naing, a former political prisoner and secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), in a news release.

“Without the release of all political prisoners, there can be no peace and stability in our country. But we need the U.N. Secretary-General to show strong leadership on this issue. With this signature campaign, we want to show Ban Ki Moon just how many people around the world care about this issue.”

In December 2008, 112 former presidents and prime ministers from 50 countries sent a letter to Ban Ki Moon urging him to press for the release of all political prisoners in Burma by the end of 2008. The Secretary-General received a similar letter from 241 legislators from a number of Asian countries.

A noted prisoner of conscience and advocate of nonviolent resistance, Aung San Suu Kyi has come up for release in the past, but the junta repeatedly extended her detention. On 22 September 2007, although still under house arrest, she was able to appear briefly at the gate of her residence in Yangon to accept the blessings of Buddhist monks who were marching in support of human rights.

Burma, also called Myanmar, is ranked among the 20 poorest countries in the world. The U.N. and other groups have blamed the country’s economic problems on the leadership of the junta and the proportion of national income spent on the military.

The global campaign will run from March 13 to May 24. The petition can be viewed here: www.fbppn.net .