Burma must release all political detainees for genuine changeBy Zin Linn Oct 13, 2011 10:44PM UTC
The President Thein Sein government announced on Tuesday that it would release 6,359 prisoners under an amnesty for elderly, ailing and obedient prisoners. As of Wednesday, the first batch of prisoners was released. But, at the end of the day only about 200 political prisoners appeared to have been freed, according to friends and families of detainees.
A well-known freed prisoner of conscience was Zarganar (alias) Ko Thura who was arrested in June 2008. He had been sentenced to 35 years in a remote prison after criticizing the then-ruling junta for its sluggish response to Cyclone Nargis, which claimed more than 140,000 lives when it smashed the Irrawaddy delta in May 2008.
The well-known comedian Zarganar, who was released yesterday morning, commented on the current situation, “If we talk about change in Burma, what I dare say this is no change at all and I still don’t accept as true that Burma is really on the reform path. According to my experience, the president is too stingy. What I mean is that only a few political prisoners have been released.”
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) based on the Thai-Burma border, the regime freed only 206 political detainees, but kept most of its almost 2,000 political prisoners – including democracy campaigners, journalists, students, monks and lawyers – incarcerated.
Even though prominent political prisoners Gen. Hso Ten and Zarganar were released, many other prominent student leaders such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Min Zeya, Htay Kywe and ethnic leaders such as U Khun Tun Oo are still languishing in tarnished jails in Burma.
Another well-known female labor activist, Su Su Nway, was also released on Wednesday from remote Hkam-ti prison. She was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 12 years in prison, later reduced to 8 years and six months for protesting with a poster not far away from a hotel where Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinhero, United Nations Special Raporteur for Human Rights in Burma, was then staying.
Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said that he was very disappointed with Wednesday’s amnesty.
“This Thein Sein government’s prisoner-release stance is the same as the previous military regime,” he said.
Although Government said it released 6,359 prisoners, most of them were ordinary criminals. In addition, the government constantly refuses to recognize that there are nearly 2,000 political prisoners in its notorious prisons.
But human rights organization Amnesty International said authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all remaining prisoners of conscience.
Many political prisoners were sentenced to decades in jail and have endured “torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, according to Amnesty International, which urged the new nominally civilian government to go further. AI spokesman Benjamin Zawacki said he was disappointed more political prisoners have not been released.
Ojea Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar (Burma), said some of the most significant dissidents had not been released and more than 1,000 prisoners of conscience remained behind bars. The UN rights investigator for the isolated country wants many more freed before the end of the year.
Mr. Quintana said he expected country’s military rulers to hold by-elections by year’s end, and he would like to see the release of remaining political prisoners by then.
“It’s very important that the government finish with this process of release before the elections,” he told Reuters News Agency in an interview.
In handling the question of political prisoners, the new President Thein Sein government must get rid of the policy of previous junta headed by Senior General Than Shwe. If the present government has a policy of good governance, it should allow the participation of opposition in the nation’s political process.
Keeping the political dissidents in prison and shouting democracy slogans will not win over political support domestically or internationally. So, it is time for Burmese government to free all political detainees in an attempt to build true national reconciliation plus peaceful and prosperous country in the ASEAN society.