10/12/2011, 00.00
MYANMAR

Amnesty in Myanmar: dozens of political prisoners freed including the actor Zarganar

The measure is expected to cover at least 300 prisoners of conscience. So far 70 released. Among them Shin Gambira, one of the monks who lead the Saffron Revolution in 2007. AsiaNews sources: government decision linked to attempts to remove sanctions and obtain ASEAN presidency in 2014.
Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Burmese authorities have started the process which will lead to the release of 6,359 prisoners, following the provision of general amnesty. Among them are "political prisoners" and, according to some sources, at least 300 Burmese imprisoned for "crimes of opinion". So far, according to official figures, "70 political prisoners have been freed." AsiaNews sources in Myanmar explain that the government decision to release detainees, and prominent figures close to the pro-democracy movement is linked to an attempt to alleviate U.S. and Europe’s economic and trade sanctions, combined with the diplomatic effort initiated by Naypyidaw for the presidency of ASEAN in 2014, the Association brings together the 10 nations of Southeast Asia.

Among the "political prisoners" already free, there is the famous actor and director Zarganar (pictured), who left prison in Myitkyina (Kachin State North) this morning: "I'm not happy at all - the popular artist told AP - because none of the 14 so-called political prisoners, and my friends, jailed together with me have been released. " He added that "I will be happy and thank the government only when all my friends are free." Zarganar was arrested in 2008 for organizing the collection and distribution of aid to people affected by Cyclone Nargis, which caused 140 thousand dead and wounded. He also criticized the government for "slow response" to the emergency. However, his release is conditioned to his future behavior: "If I do something wrong – he told the BBC – they will send me back to my cell."

Among the dozens of political prisoners freed there are also the monks -protagonists of the uprising against the price hikes of September 2007, drowned in blood by the then military regime in Burma, led by General Than Shwe. Then there are former members of the student movement 8888, members of the group Generation Wave, journalists and pro-democracy activists. Among the monks released, there is also Shin Gambira, who led the protest march through the streets of Yangon in 2007 and whose images were broadcast around the world. He was considered one of the leaders of the "Saffron Revolution", which took its name from the color of the traditional robes worn by monks.

In a video aired by the Democratic Voice of Burma dissident website (click here to see video) opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed the release of (some) political prisoners: "I welcome their release - said the leader of the National League for Democracy in DVB - because the liberty of a person is priceless. " Words of sincere joy, expressed by the Nobel laureate who has spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest and only regained freedom last November.

However there are critical voices, asking the government to support further steps in the process of democratization in Myanmar. Nyan Win, NLD spokesperson, said that "the release of political prisoners is just one of the signals" that show the seriousness of the intentions expressed by the Burmese leadership. "It will take other steps - he commented - including press freedom and a loosening of censorship." (DS)

(with the collaboration of Yaung Ni Oo)


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