Burmese authorities released more than 90 prisoners Tuesday, including nearly 60 identified by a rights group as political prisoners, in a new show of amnesty by President Thein Sein’s reformist government.
A total of 93 people were released from various prisons around the country through a presidential pardon, President’s Office spokesman Ye Htut said in a post on his Facebook page.
“The total number of released prisoners is 90 Burmese citizens and three foreigners, on order by the president on April 23, 2013,” the posting read. No further details were provided.
Of the 93 released Tuesday, Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) confirmed that 59 people who had been held for political reasons had been pardoned, including 40 ethnic Shan rebel soldiers who had fought against the government, according to the Irrawaddy online journal.
The largest group released from one prison came from Thayawaddy Prison in Bago region, located about three hours by car from Rangoon, Tun Kyi, secretary of AAPP’s Burma branch, told RFA’s Burmese Service.
“More than 40 prisoners were released from Thayawaddy Prison. Among them, only two political prisoners—Aung Thu and Aye Min Phyo—were included,” he said.
Tun Kyi said that eight people had been released from the once notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon Division. Among them were six political prisoners, including two members of the Wa ethnic minority who had been convicted for carrying weapons.
Ye Htet Soe, who was convicted for his involvement with the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) and the independence-seeking Karen National Union (KNU)—was also among the political prisoners released from Insein.
The ABSDF is an armed group linked to both the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the KNU.
Thailand’s branch of the AAPP said that 10 prisoners had been released from Insein Prison in total, according to the Irrawaddy.
Tun Kyi told RFA that two political prisoners were released from Mandalay’s Obo Prison and five were released from Myitkyina Prison in Kachin state.
More pardons are expected, he said, without providing further details.
The Irrawaddy quoted the AAPP in Thailand as saying that 13 political prisoners had been set free from Thayawady, Myingyan, Pakkoku, Thayet penitentiaries and Mandalay’s Obo Prison.
Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the AAPP in Thailand, welcomed the amnesty, but said the release of political prisoners should be “publicly announced.”
“The government should treat them with dignity,” he told the Irrawaddy. “They are somewhat like bargaining chips, used by the government to gain some achievements” from the international community.
Also among those released was Sonny Swe, a former majority shareholder in the English-language newspaper The Myanmar Times and the son of a former Military Intelligence (MI) officer, who had served eight years in Shan state’s Taunggyi Prison, the Irrawaddy said.
Sonny Swe was arrested along with his father in 2005 when then-junta leader Gen. Than Shwe purged the MI. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison later that year for disobeying the government censorship board and stripped of his shares in the newspaper.
The government freed 452 prisoners in November last year in a gesture of “goodwill” ahead of an historic visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, but the amnesty drew criticism from the AAPP which said that none of those granted freedom had been sentenced for their political views.
Burma has released around 800 political prisoners as part of rapid democratic reforms implemented since President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government took power from the former military junta in March 2011.
More than 80 political detainees were released among more than 500 prisoners in September 2012 ahead of Thein Sein’s trip to the U.S. to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Additional political prisoners were released in amnesties in July last year and in May 2011.
The AAPP has said that some 200 political prisoners remain in Burmese jails, though estimates vary on the number.
Reported by Thuza for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.