10/08/2014, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Burmese government frees over 3 thousand prisoners, but no political prisoner

by Francis Khoo Thwe
The presidential amnesty covers 3,073 prisoners, freed in the name of "peace and stability". These include "six or seven" former senior intelligence officers and dozens of foreigners. At least 80 prisoners in Burmese prisons for crimes of opinion; September 11 new convictions.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Burmese government has announced the release of thousands of prisoners, including former senior military intelligence officers, but no political prisoner. The decision comes just a few weeks away from the 25th ASEAN summit (Association of South-East Asian Nations), scheduled from November 9 to 11 in Naypyidaw, which will be attended by US President Barack Obama and other world leaders .

President of Myanmar Thein Sein has pardoned 3,073 prisoners in the name of "peace and stability" and to "respect the rule of law." The executive declined to identify the names and crimes committed by the inmates, but the vast majority had been convicted of common crimes, not for political activities.

Activists from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP - Burma), one of the most important groups in Myanmar to aid political prisoners, report that the amnesty does not apply to political prisoners. Six or seven of those released, says Bo Kyi, are former top intelligence officials "but certainly cannot be considered political prisoners".

Local political experts explain that these are members of the internal security and army who were jailed a decade ago, at the time of the purges ordered by the military dictatorship that ruled Myanmar until 2010.  Those released include Brigadier General Thein Swe, as confirmed by his son Myat Swe on his Facebook page.

Government sources add that the 3 thousand freed prisoners include 58 foreign nationals, without specifying the nationality; the amnesty decided at this time is just the latest of a dozen reformist measures implemented by the semi-civilian government since its rise to power in March 2011, however, despite the announcements of President Thein Sein, who had assured the release of all political prisoners by the end of 2013, dozens of people are still locked up in Burmese prisons for crimes of opinion.

The latest estimates compiled by AAPP, updated to September, speak of at least 80 activists detained and another 130 awaiting trial for crimes of opinion. These arrests and convictions fall under the infamous Section 18 of the Law on Assemblies, a pretext used by the authorities to stop, arrest and convict those fighting for political freedom, civil and human rights in the country. Just last month, according to AAPP in a note sent to AsiaNews, there were 11 convictions of attivists, the indictment of 13 people (including two already in prison) and the release of two political prisoners.

 

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