Political prisoner amnesty in Myanmar: perhaps I spoke too soon

Monday, January 6, 2014

Perhaps it is too soon to declare a new era in respect for human rights in Myanmar. While Japan recently announced a $96 million aid package for ethnic minorities, seemingly in response to the government turning over a new leaf, only a handful of the more than 13,000 prisoners who have walked free since the new year are political detainees. It remains unclear how many prisoners of conscience still remain behind bars.
More than 13,000 inmates have walked free from various prisons across Burma since the president declared an amnesty on 31 December in honour of the 66th anniversary of Burma’s independence.

However, only a handful of those released have been political prisoners.

“I was in for prostitution and I’m very happy to be released”, said a young female prisoner released from Insein prison in Rangoon who served one year.

“I am very grateful for the amnesty allowing us to reunite with our families on humanitarian grounds”, said a male prisoner from Hlegu township who was sentenced to one year but only served eight months.

On 1 January the government announced that there were no more political prisoners in Burma.

And on Monday state media claimed that 13,274 prisoners had been set free. However, it remains unclear how many political activists are being further detained under criminal charges.

The presidential pardon meant that death sentences was reduced to life imprisonment; life sentences were reduced to 40 years; and inmates serving sentences of less than 40 years had their sentences shortened by one-quarter. Many of those who had already served two-thirds of their time were released.

The Burmese government claims that their jail-cells are now devoid of political detainees. The question now remains whether the international community is buying it.

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