Speculations were swirling Thursday in Burma about an imminent release of several hundred political prisoners, with unconfirmed reports saying that at least one of them, celebrity comedian Zarganar, may have already been freed.
The speculations came as Burma’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told the UN General Assembly in New York this week that an unspecified number of prisoners will be released soon under an early amnesty program.
But the minister did not say they will be political prisoners. Rights groups believe there are about 2,000 political prisoners in Burma although government officials dispute the figure.
Reports of the impending release of several hundred political prisoners came also as pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi prepared to meet Aung Kyi, Burma’s minister of labor and minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, on Friday.
It will be Aung San Suu Kyi’s fourth meeting with Burmese officials since she was released from house arrest in November after landmark elections that led to the formation of a nominally civilian government following decades of military rule.
It is believed that issues such as the release of political prisoners and the re-registration of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy will be discussed at the meeting.
One unnamed government source told RFA that comedian Zarganar, held in Myitkyina Prison in Burma’s northern Kachin State since November 2008, has been taken to Mandalay city, 445 miles (716 kilometers) north of the country's commercial capital Rangoon.
"He is already in Mandalay and will be back in Rangoon tomorrow [Friday] morning,"
Ma Nyein, Zarganar's sister-in-law, said she was unable to confirm his release.
"The media keeps asking me about that since 1 pm today, that he had boarded a 3 pm train to Rangoon. So we called a friend in Myitkyina to go to the prison," she said.
"When our friend got there, a prison doctor had just walked out of the prison and when asked, the doctor said that he just spoke with him [Zarganar]. So Ko Thura [Zarganar's other name] is still inside the prison."
Zarganar was jailed after he criticized the Burmese government’s response to the deadly 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster and started his own relief efforts.
Last year, he was said to be in poor health, suffering from heart problems and high blood pressure, but rights groups said he was denied adequate medical treatment.
Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin had asked the international community to lift long imposed sanctions on his country when he spoke about the prospect of prisoners being released at the UN.
Aye Thar Aung, the secretary of the Committee Representing the People's Parliament, said that the government must release the political prisoners if it wants sanctions lifted.
“We really hope to see the release of the political prisoners, such as the 88 Generation Student leaders, the ethnic leaders, comedian Zaganar...Although we heard some rumors about the release of prisoners, we can’t confirm yet whether political prisoners are included,” he told the Irrawaddy online publication.
On Thursday, there were also rumors that Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Students Group, had been released from prison.
But Daw Kyi Kyi Nyunt, his sister, told RFA, she did not get any confirmation about his release.
His family has not visited him for the past three months, and plans to visit him before Oct. 18, his birthday.
Reported by Khin Maung Soe for RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.