Bill requires the Secretary of State to take further action to end detaining of political prisoners and promote free expression


Washington (July 10, 2019) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) today introduced bipartisan legislation that advocates for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Burma. Despite a campaign pledge that the National League for Democracy (NLD) “would not arrest anyone as political prisoners,” it has failed to fulfill this promise since its historic electoral victory in the 2015 parliamentary elections. As of March 1, 2019, there were 354 political prisoners in Burma, 43 of them serving sentences, 86 awaiting trial inside prison, and 225 awaiting trial outside prison, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma.


The legislation is the Senate companion to a bill already introduced in April by Congressman Andy Levin (MI-09) and Congresswoman Ann Wagner (MO-2).


“As the United States and our international partners continue to rightfully focus on the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Burma, we must not forget the broader challenges to freedom of expression in Burma,” said Senator Markey, Ranking Member of the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Burma’s democratic transition can only be successful if people can have the basic human right to peacefully express their views without fear of arrest, detention, or worse. This legislation will make sure that the U.S. government has the tools and policies necessary to maintain our commitment to the democratic aspirations of the people of Burma.”


“The people of Burma have long suffered human rights violations,” said Senator Blackburn. “It is imperative that we have clarity on the state of free speech, a free press, and the right to peaceful assembly. The U.S. Congress strongly condemns the exploitation of child soldiers and the continued internment of prisoners of conscience. Supporting democracy and human rights in Burma promotes peace and stability in the country, region, and worldwide.”


A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.


Specifically, the legislation:

  • Codifies values of human rights and democracy in U.S. policy and urges the Secretary of State to be a partner in advocating for justice in Burma
  • Calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all Burmese political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and directs the U.S. Secretary of State to provide aid to such prisoners
  • Requires the Secretary of State to assist civil society organizations in the country that work to free political prisoners and prisoners of conscience
  • Provides assistance, including the documentation of human rights violations with respect to political prisoners, support for efforts to appeal or amend laws that are used to unjustly imprison individuals and health, and education support for former prisoners