Not only has the British government abandoned Burmese political prisoners, it has now also abandoned a British citizen jailed in Burma for political reasons.
Philip Blackwood, who has joint British and New Zealand citizenship, and two Burmese colleagues, Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin, were sentenced to two and a half years in prison with hard labour earlier this year for 'insulting Buddhism'. A picture of Buddha wearing headphones had been uploaded on the Facebook page of the bar they worked in. Buddhist nationalists protested and the Burmese government jumped on the case to try to win support from nationalists ahead of elections in November.
The trial and convictions were clearly politically motivated. The military-backed Burmese government cannot compete with the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, so it is trying to play the Buddhist nationalist card to win public support. These convictions are about the elections due in November, not justice or insults to religion.
Philip Blackwood with his daughter Sasha and fiance Noemi
The law in Burma also requires that there was an intent to cause insult, which there was not. Any offence caused was unintentional, and they have apologised. A wrongful conviction serving two and a half years hard labour in jail for accidentally causing offence is not justice.
There was a time when the British government campaigned around the world to build international support for freeing political prisoners in Burma. Even raising the issue at the United Nations Security Council.
But when Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire visited Burma a few weeks ago, and met with Burmese government officials, he didn't even call for the release of Philip Blackwood or the other two political prisoners in this case. Support and protection for British citizens abroad is one of the most basic duties of the Foreign office. Yet the British government seems prepared to let an innocent British citizen and his colleagues rot in a Burmese jail rather than risk upsetting the Burmese regime and jeopardising trade deals.