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(New York) - Creative agency JWT has been honored with six prestigious international advertising awards for its campaign for Human Rights Watch involving an art installation drawing attention to Burma's political prisoners, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 19, JWT's Burma Campaign for Human Rights Watch will be awarded a Grand CLIO in Environmental Design. In the past month, the installation has won two gold cubes at the Art Directors Club awards, gold at the One Show Design, and silver at both the New York Festival and One Show Awards.

"We're thrilled about these awards, and that our campaign with JWT has raised the profile of Burma's political prisoners to a whole new level," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "We hope the spotlight from these awards will help bring renewed international pressure on Burma's government to release all political prisoners."

The installation was launched in New York's Grand Central terminal in June 2010, as part of Human Rights Watch's "Behind Bars in Burma" campaign calling for the release of all 2,100 political prisoners. The interactive installation represents a miniature Burmese prison complex, and as visitors approach, it turns out the cell bars are actually ballpoint pens. Visitors remove the pens to sign a petition calling on Burma's leaders to release the country's political prisoners. At the day-long event, signatures were collected from people from more than 86 countries. A one minute forty-four second video of the event can be viewed here.

Since the launch, Human Rights Watch has worked with the Czech group, People in Need, to create a smaller shadow installation for the One World Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Prague in March 2011. This installation will be featured at the European Parliament on May 24, in association with the film festival in Brussels.

Human Rights Watch and JWT have also launched an online application for website visitors to show their support for Burma's political prisoners. The application allows viewers the virtual experience of removing the prison "bars" to sign the petition. New Yorkers can currently view the installation at the Art Directors Club gallery through May 26.

Burma remains one of the world's most repressive societies. Sham elections in November 2010 entrenched military rule under the facade of civilian government. Despite longstanding calls by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many governments around the world for the release of the country's political prisoners, few have been freed apart from the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, when her house arrest order expired last year.

On May 16, President Thein Sein issued an "amnesty" to all convicted prisoners in Burma that commutes death sentences to life imprisonment and reduces prison terms by one year. The one-year reduction is of slight significance to many political prisoners, a large number of whom have been sentenced to decades in prison - more than 60 years in some cases - for peaceful activities. Of the approximately 15,000 prisoners released because they had less than a year to serve, only about 47 are political prisoners. Those remaining in prison include:

  • Zargana, Burma's most famous comedian, who is serving a 35-year sentence for criticizing the military government's slow response to Cyclone Nargis;
  • U Gambira, a 30-year-old monk who was one of the leaders of the peaceful protests of August and September 2007 and is now serving a 63-year sentence;
  • Su Su Nway, a female labor rights activist serving an eight-and-a-half-year sentence after raising a banner criticizing Burma's government at the hotel of a visiting UN special envoy;
  • Min Ko Naing, a former student leader serving a 65-year sentence; and
  • Nay Phone Latt, a 30-year-old blogger who used his blog to spread news about the 2007 protests and was subsequently sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The amnesty announcement came after the visit by the UN secretary-general's Burma envoy, Vijay Nambiar, from May 11-13, in which he called for the release of all political prisoners. 

"While the fraction of political prisoners who had less than a year to serve have been released, they and those still held should never have been in prison in the first place," said Pearson. "Human Rights Watch will continue its campaign until all political prisoners in Burma are freed."

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