Sunday, September 20, 2009

More Political Prisoners Released: AAPP

The Irrawaddy News

At least 87 political dissidents were among the more than 7,000 prisoners released by Burma’s ruling junta on Friday, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners—Burma (AAPP).

The AAPP announced on Saturday that it had confirmed the release of 87 political dissidents from 16 prisons across Burma. They include 36 members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and six members of the 88 Generation Students group. Three of the NLD members were elected to serve in parliament in 1990.

According to the AAPP, there were 15 women, four monks, four journalists and one lawyer among the released prisoners.

Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the AAPP, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that the release of the prisoners, though welcome, still falls far short of international demands.

“It is still too early to say that this signifies any real change in Burma,” he said, noting that some of the political prisoners who had been released had nearly finished their prison terms.

“We continue to call for the immediate release of all the more than 2,100 political prisoners still behind bars,” he added.

Critics of the regime say that the latest prisoner release is little more than an attempt to deflect international criticism ahead of trip to New York by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, who will attend the UN General Assembly next week.

Thet Zin, the editor of the Myanmar Nation weekly, was one of four journalists released on Friday.

He was arrested in February 2008 for possessing a video of a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September of the previous year, as well as a report by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma.

Shortly after receiving a seven-year prison sentence in November 2008, he was transferred from Insein Prison in Rangoon to a remote prison in Kele, Sagaing Division.

When the Burmese state-run media announced an amnesty for 7,114 prisoners on Thursday evening, his family was hopeful that he would be among those released. Late Friday evening, he called them from Kele Township to let them know he had been freed.

“We are very happy to know that he has been released,” said one family member, adding that Thet Zin was now on his way back to Rangoon to be with his teenage daughter and son.

Another released political prisoner is Moe Kyaw Thu, also known as Bo Bo, who was serving a 20-year sentence for anti-junta activities at Mandalay Prison.

“When we heard that he was released, the whole house was noisy with happiness. His son was very, very happy about his father’s release,” a family member told The Irrawaddy on Saturday.

“When he was arrested, his son was just a few months old,” she said. “I am very happy to see that they will finally be reunited after nearly 12 years apart.”

On Friday, a high-ranking official of Burma’s Corrections Department told reporters at a press conference at Insein Prison that about 250 political prisoners would be released. However, so far only 87 political prisoners are confirmed to have been among the 7,114 prisoners included in the amnesty.

The junta has announced several mass amnesties in the past, but usually includes only a small handful of political prisoners among those granted early release. In February, 6,313 prisoners were released for “humanitarian reasons” and to enable them “to participate in fair elections to be held in 2010.” only 31 were political prisoners.

In September 2008, the regime freed 9,002 prisoners, saying it wanted to “turn them into citizens to be able to participate in building a new nation.” But only nine political prisoners, including Win Tin, a prominent NLD leader, were included in the amnesty.

In an amnesty in November 2007 to mark the conclusion of the National Convention, the junta released 8,585 prisoners. Twenty political prisoners were among them.

“Release of political prisoners is good. But many other political dissidents, including ethnic leaders, are still in prison. For national reconciliation, all of them must be freed,” said NLD spokesperson Nyan Win, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Saturday.

Meanwhile, as some families celebrate the release of loved ones, many others were disappointed to learn that their relatives remain behind bars.

One girl whose father was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2002 said she was saddened to see that he was not on the list of released prisoners.

“I am sad that my father did not receive an amnesty, but I am happy for the other political prisoners who were released,” she said.

Burma Newscasts - More Political Prisoners Released: AAPP
Saturday, September 19, 2009

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