02/23/2009, 00.00
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Burmese junta frees more than 6,000 prisoners but only 23 jailed on political charges

Eight monks and a labour activist are among those released. The latter had been arrested for gathering information about forced labour in the country. “As I am now free, I will continue to work,” he said.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The government’s decision to release only 23 political prisons is a “bad sign”. It shows that the military junta “has no desire to release political prisoners,” said Thet Wai, National League for Democracy (NLD) chairperson and a labour rights activist.

Last Friday the military regime amnestied 6,313 prisoners but only 23 who were in prison for political reasons. Thet Wai was among them. Ostensibly arrested on 19 February 2008 for “obstructing officials on duty,” in fact he had been taken into custody for resisting an attempt to seize a memory stick from him containing information about the Myanmar government’s forced labour practices that he was planning to give to the International Labour Organisation. For his trouble he was sentenced to 18 months in Insein Prison.

“As I am now free, I will continue to work,” he said.

Eight of the 23 political prisoners released are monks who had been arrested for their involvement in the monk-led revolution of September 2007.

Zaw Myint Maung, 56, was also among those the military authorities released. He is a prominent NLD leader who was arrested in 1990 following elections won by the opposition but never recognised by the military regime.

According to official figures there are still more than 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under house arrested for 13 of the past 19 years.

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