Myanmar Frees 56 Political ‘Prisoners of Conscience’ Held Under Former Junta

myanmar mapThanks to Golden Age of Gaia.

From AFP – October 8, 2013

Myanmar has begun freeing dozens of detained political activists, officials say, after the country vowed to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year.

“Our government will release 56 political prisoners,” presidential adviser Hla Maung Shwe said on Monday, in comments confirmed by correctional department officials.

Setting free dissidents detained arbitrarily under the former junta has been a cornerstone of reforms by a new quasi-civilian regime and has been warmly welcomed by the international community with the scrapping of most western sanctions.

Hundreds of political detainees have been freed since president Thein Sein took power in March 2011.

But activists say authorities are continuing to prosecute dissidents and scores remain behind bars.

They accuse the government of using the headline-grabbing releases for political gain and leverage with the international community.

Mr Sein, who travelled on Tuesday to a meeting of regional powers in Brunei, announced there would be “no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar” by the end of the year during his first visit to London in July.

Numbers for political prisoners held in Myanmar vary, but Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party said there were around 140 activists held before Tuesday’s announcement.

Thet Oo, from the ex-detainees group Former Political Prisoners, says he can confirm some of the 56 have already been set free, adding that his organisation estimates around 50 new activists have been held by the current regime.

“Twenty of them are in the prisons and the rest are facing trials. Most of them were charged for protesting without permission and under charges [of] defaming the state,” he said.

The arbitrary imprisonment of political opponents was a hallmark of the previous brutal junta and sparked a web of western sanctions which stifled the economy.

Since Mr Sein took power, the nation has undergone dramatic change including the election of opposition leader Ms Suu Kyi to parliament.

Myanmar analyst Richard Horsey says the government is still arresting and detaining activists, but the new releases are “generally in a transparent way unlike the past”.

He says recent detentions have often been in “accordance with a law – even if it is a law that has provisions that are not consistent with democratic freedoms”.

“So the key will be, at the end of the year, has Thein Sein met his pledge on having no political prisoners, and how are the more recently arrested people classified?” he said.


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