In January, Patrick Kum Jaa Lee was sentenced to six months in jail for his action, which he is serving in the notorious Insein Prison, long used by Burma’s military junta to repress political dissidents.
When Burma’s military regime began a process of reforms in 2010, they released most of their political prisoners and lessened controls on the media. But rounds of fresh detentions in the last two years have raised concerns over renewed curbs on freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian nation.
Human rights activists and others are calling on Burma’s new, democratically elected government, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to release the prisoners when they take office next month.
“We are hoping that after the new government takes over power they may relieve the prisoners with amnesty,” said Patrick Kum Jaa Lee's wife, May Sabe Phyu. The couple are well known peace activists from the Kachin ethnic group in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
In a report this week, Amnesty International estimated that there are around 90 political protesters in Burma’s jails, and many more are awaiting trial. They include student protesters arrested in a crackdown last year and a half dozen others charged for defamatory Facebook posts.
“We have seen some improvement, but protesting or criticizing the government or the military is still very prohibited,” said May Sabe Phyu.
She said her husband suffers from high blood pressure and asthma, and his health has deteriorated since he’s been in prison. He is being housed in the intensive care unit of the hospital there but has so far been denied bail on medical grounds. She is allowed to see him only twice a month.
Suu Kyi’s government has expressed willingness to release the new prisoners, but the country’s military still controls its defense and security forces, which may complicate their efforts.
“Our message to the military has been we hope it will follow the lead of the elected civilian government in such matters,” said Tom Malinowski, assistant U.S. secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.