YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A prominent Myanmar activist said Saturday that he was canceling an upcoming trip to the United States to receive a democracy award, to show solidarity with more than a dozen fellow activists whose applications for passports have apparently been denied.
Min Ko Naing was to be recognized by the National Endowment for Democracy as one of five Myanmar activists who have made significant contributions to the democracy movement in the former military-ruled country.
The ceremony is taking place Thursday in Washington, with a keynote speech to be given by Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's most famous democracy crusader. The opposition leader leaves Sunday for her first U.S. trip since she was put under house arrest in 1990.
Min Ko Naing was a key leader of pro-democracy protests in 1988 and 2007. He spent most of the past 20 years as a political prisoner in solitary confinement until his release in January. Other activists endured similar sentences for participating in the protests, which were outlawed along with all dissent by the former military junta.
Ahead of his trip to Washington, authorities granted passports to Min Ko Naing and a handful of other prominent activists, including Ko Ko Gyi, also a high-profile leader of the 1988 student-led democracy rallies.
But nearly two dozen other pro-democracy activists have been left in limbo, some of whom applied for passports up to six months ago and were told upon inquiring at the Home Ministry to come back in a year, Ko Ko Gyi told The Associated Press.
Passports in Myanmar are generally issued within three weeks.
"I really value the award given by the National Endowment for Democracy, but I have decided not to travel to Washington to accept it," Min Ko Naing told the AP.
"On principle, I will not travel alone when my colleagues are denied their citizens' rights," he said. "We should be treated as equals and be given passports together."
Over the last year, President Thein Sein's government has spearheaded unprecedented change in Myanmar, relaxing decades of harsh rule and allowing freedoms previously unheard of in the Southeast Asian nation. But major challenges remain. Rights groups say that human rights abuses continue, that rule of law is weak and that corruption remains strong.
Among the four others being recognized for the 2012 Democracy Award are Hkun Htun Oo, the leader of an ethnic Shan political party who was jailed for many years, and film actor-director turned activist Kyaw Thu, who leads a social organization called the Free Funeral Service Society.
Also being honored are Cynthia Maung, an ethnic Karen doctor who provides medical care on the Thai side of the border for more than 50,000 people from Myanmar every year, and Aung Din, a leader of the 1988 student movement and former political prisoner who is now director of the Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma.