Opinion: Burma amnesty means nothing for political prisonersBy Zin Linn May 16, 2011 11:43PM UTC
Burma’s state television and radio announced Monday that President Thein Sein signed a “general amnesty” order No. 28/2011 commuting death sentences to life imprisonment and cutting one year from prisoners’ jail terms.
The message did not state how many prisoners are covered by the President’s order. However, it seems none of the 2,000 plus political prisoners will be released.
The news came as dissatisfaction spread among those calling for the release of political prisoners.
Nyan Win, a spokesman for democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political group, said the order would not help political prisoners because many are serving very long sentences.
Last month, Nay Myo Zin, 36, a retired Burmese military officer who works as a volunteer of ‘Blood Donation Network’ affiliated with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), was arrested by the Special Branch Police in Rangoon.
According to his family, the ex-army captain did not commit any crime except helping poor patients who need emergency blood transfusion. Nay Myo Zin has been charged with the Electronic Acts (33) and transferred to Rangoon’s Insein Prison, according to his family. The Electronics Act (33) was commonly used by the previous military regime to persecute political activists and those being charged with it can face jail terms from seven to 15 years if found guilty.
Freedom of expression, information and association is controlled by more than half a dozen laws, the violation of which, may be, and in fact is, widely sanctioned by three to 20 years in prison.
There are over 2,000 political prisoners who have been detained and sentenced for having peacefully expressed their views verbally, through participation in peaceful demonstrations or in activities of political parties. Some of them are punished for having written about human rights or political issues in the country or for reading or possessing written materials judged illegal.
A movement of letter-campaigns has spread across the country in the past month urging President Thein Sein to release all political prisoners for the sake of national reconciliation. Eleven groups including All Burma Monks’ Alliance and various dissident student groups released a joint-statement urging the new government to free all political prisoners. On April 27, five ethnic political parties also called for the release of all political prisoners.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) has been organizing a signature campaign in order to encourage the release of prisoners of conscience. Several famous writers, poets, musicians, artists and intellectuals have signed the letter. An advance package of letters signed by hundreds people in Rangoon was sent to President Thein Sein on April 25.
There are a total of 2061 political prisoners in Burma, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). At least 159 political prisoners are in poor health due to the denial of proper medical care, harsh prison conditions, torture and transfers to remote prisons where there are no doctors.
According to this so-called ‘amnesty’, only the prisoners on death row will be commuted to life imprisonment and others will receive a one-year deduction from their current prison terms. On the other hand ‘Thein Sein government’ continues to reject the existence of political prisoners in Burma.
If this is Thein Sein’s answer to the demand of people of Burma as well as the International Community including the UN, no one on earth will recognize it as a step forward.