Levin Bill to Assist Political Prisoners in Burma Passes House
The U.S. House of Representatives today passed a bill authored by Congressman Andy Levin, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, that would provide assistance to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Burma. The Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act is the first stand-alone bill authored by Congressman Levin to pass the full House. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Congressman Levin and Congresswoman Ann Wager (MO-02).
“Part of my mission in Congress is to advance human rights in America and around the world,” Congressman Levin said. “Next week, I will travel to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, the site of the world’s largest refugee settlement where many Rohingya refugees have fled from Burma. I plan to speak openly and honestly about what I learn from the Rohingya people, which I have the freedom to do because I live in the United States. If Burma was my home, however, I would risk imprisonment by speaking the truth.”
“Right now, journalists and activists in Burma are being sent to prison for sounding the alarm about human rights abuses, including the plight of the Rohingya people. This dire situation demands the urgent attention of the State Department, which is why this bill is critical. I’m grateful that Congresswoman Wagner and I could pass this bill in a bipartisan fashion, as protecting human rights should rise above partisan labels.”
The Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all Burmese political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The bill instructs the State Department to assist civil society organizations in Burma that work to free such prisoners, and also to provide aid when prisoners are released.
The bill recognizes Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists who were imprisoned for more than 500 days for investigating a massacre of Rohingya men and boys. The bill also recognizes Aung Ko Htwe, a former child soldier who was imprisoned for two years after he gave an interview about his experience in the Burmese military.
As of the end of April 2019, there were 650 political prisoners in Burma, 50 of them serving sentences, 179 awaiting trial inside prison, and 401 awaiting trial outside prison, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma.