UNESCO appeals for release of political prisoners Latsami Khamphoui (Laos) and Khin Zaw Win (Myanmar)UNESCO today issued a public appeal for the release of two political prisoners, Latsami Khamphoui, a former Deputy Minister for Economics and Planning, in jail in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic since 1990, and Khin Zaw Win, a dentist and researcher, imprisoned in Myanmar since 1994.
UNESCO appealed for both prisoners’ release several times in recent years through diplomatic channels, to no avail. For this reason, the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, which usually handles human rights violations in private sessions, decided to bring the matter before UNESCO’s Executive Board this morning in a public session.
Mr Khamphoui, 63, is in poor health and the conditions of his detention are said to be very harsh. He has been in prison since 1990. In 1992, he was tried and given a 14-year sentence for “preparations for a rebellion, propaganda against the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, mass meetings with the intention of creating tensions, libel and slander, and creating disturbances in goal.”
He has served more than 13 years of his sentence and the Committee expressed concern over the Lao government’s indication that Mr Khamphoui might not be released at the end of his sentence unless he appeal for clemency.
Speaking for UNESCO’s Executive Board, Chairperson Aziza Bennani issued “a humanitarian appeal for clemency” to the government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, had already called for the release of Mr Khamphoui in a letter to the Lao government and during a visit to the country in December 2002.
An appeal for clemency was also made by the Chairperson of the Executive Board on behalf of Khin Zaw Win, whose case has been on the Committee’s agenda since 2001.
Mr Khin Zaw Win, 52, was arrested in 1994 at Yangon airport on his way to Singapore where he was to resume studies in political science. He is alleged to have been carrying documents about the National League for Democracy opposition party founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.
He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for “spreading or intending to spread false information in the knowledge that it was false”; for “belonging to or having links with an illegal organization”; and for “possessing or consulting State secrets”. He is said to be suffering from several medical problems exacerbated by harsh conditions and insufficient medical care.
During the public debate, the Committee “noted with concern the recent deterioration in the situation regarding human rights in Myanmar and recalled the Member State’s obligations from membership to UNESCO.”