Myanmar Political Prisoners Freed in Amnesty

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myanmar-political-prisoner-release-dec-2013.jpg Peace activist Yan Naing Tun talks to the media after his release in front of Insein prison in Yangon on Dec. 31, 2013.

Myanmar on Tuesday freed five prisoners on a government list of political detainees as part of a bid to fulfill a pledge by President Thein Sein to free all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year.

The release came after a pardon announced Monday for those held or facing trial on several different offenses including unlawful association, high treason, contempt of government, and violations of the peaceful assembly law.

A presidential spokesman said "no political prisoners" remained in the country's jails but the government gave no details on how many prisoners were released Tuesday. Activists estimated recently that there were some 40 sentenced political prisoners in Myanmar with another 200 facing charges.

The five on a list of 39 political prisoners identified by Myanmar’s government-sponsored Political Prisoners Scrutinizing Committee released from prison were identified as Yan Naing Tun and Aung Min Naing who had led a march to the headquarters of the ethnic Kachin Organization in northern Myanmar early this year; Eike Pan from the Shan State Army; Ye Min from the Pa-O National Liberation Organization; and San Htwe from the Karen National Union.

Around 100 others awaiting trial on various charges, some of whom are detained, are thought to have had the cases against them dropped, according to Agence France-Presse.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut told RFA’s Myanmar Service Tuesday that there were "no political prisoners" left in the country's prisons but that any still held may have been convicted under criminal charges not covered by the pardon.

“We still don’t know the exact number of released prisoners, [but] we can generally say that no political prisoner remains in prison,” Ye Htut said.

"We can generally say there are no political prisoners."

“The president freed prisoners convicted of, or charged with, a variety of political offenses, such as unlawful association, high treason, contempt of government, and violations of the peaceful assembly law,” Ye Htut said.

But any prisoners not freed on Tuesday “may also have been held under other criminal charges,” he said.

Concern for those still held

Former political prisoners welcomed today’s prisoner release while voicing concern for those still held.

Though some who were sentenced under “complicated charges” remain jailed, “they could also be released in the first month of 2014,” Ko Ko Gyi of the 88 Generation Students Group told RFA on Tuesday.

“About 35 political prisoners remain in jail,” said Ye Aung of the Political Prisoners Scrutinizing Committee on Tuesday.

“They haven’t been released because they are still being held under other criminal charges, though their charges related to political activities were cleared by the president’s order,” he said.

“We are holding discussions on their status with the authorities and expect they will be freed soon.”

Demonstrating without permission

Yan Nain Tun, one of those freed in Tuesday’s amnesty, said he had been sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment for leading an unauthorized march.

“But I remained in prison for only 17 days and was freed today by the president’s amnesty.”

Some of those freed on Tuesday had been charged under Section 18 of the Law on Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession, a controversial 2011 law under which demonstrators can be jailed for protesting without a government permit.

“[But] other countries also have these laws,” presidential spokesman Ye Htut said.

The law, which has drawn criticism from rights groups and nongovernmental organizations, is now under review by Myanmar’s parliament, Ye Htut said.

“Abolishing or amending laws is not a responsibility of the government,” he said.

Reported by Khin Khin Ei and Nay Myo Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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