07/30/2015, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Myanmar government releases 7,000 prisoners, but very few political prisoners

Announced today, the amnesty is the latest in a series of steps taken by Myanmar’s semi-civilian pro-reform government. Those released include 210 foreigners, 155 from China. For political activist, “around 40 or 50 political prisoners” will probably benefit.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A total of 6,966 prisoners were granted a presidential amnesty on Thursday, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information has announced. It is still unclear though how many of them can be considered prisoners of conscience.

A statement published on the ministry’s website said the thousands of men and women were granted amnesty “for the sake of stability and durable peace of the state, national reconciliation, on humanitarian grounds and to enable them to take part in the political process.”

According to the statement, 210 of the prisoners were foreign nationals. Chinese state-run Xinhua has reported that 155 Chinese nationals found guilty of illegal logging were among those freed. Only a few days ago, 153 Chinese were sentenced to life imprisonment on the same charge.

The remaining Myanmar nationals were released “with a view to turning them into citizens who would understand the benevolence and goodwill of the state,” the ministry said.

This amnesty is but the latest in a dozen measures taken by Myanmar’s semi-civil pro-reform government since it came to power in March 2011.

Thousands of prisoners have been released since President Thein Sein took office in 2011. However, a promise to free all political prisoners by the end of 2013 went unmet.

By late June of this year, the number of political prisoners in Burma was as high as 169, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

The latter said there were an additional 446 activists awaiting trial for political activity, including student demonstrators and farmers’ rights activists.

Several outspoken activists and parliamentary hopefuls have also faced threatened or real legal action in the months leading up to the landmark general election set for 9 November, prompting criticism that the courts have been used to silence opposition voices.

AAPP director Bo Kyi, who served on a semi-governmental political prisoner scrutiny committee until it was reconstituted earlier this year, told The Irrawaddy that he does not expect to see many prisoners of conscience among those amnestied on Thursday.

“Around 40 or 50 political prisoners serving shorter prison sentences – one or two years – are likely to be on the list,” Bo Kyi said. “We [AAPP] did not receive any information about the release in advance, so the exact number [of political prisoners] can’t be confirmed. The ones who are now on trial cannot be freed.”

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See also
High profile Burmese political prisoners freed
13/01/2012
Amnesty in Myanmar: dozens of political prisoners freed including the actor Zarganar
12/10/2011
Aung San Suu Kyi: Political prisoners will be free as soon as possible
08/04/2016 09:53
Burmese government frees over 3 thousand prisoners, but no political prisoner
08/10/2014
Burmese President pardons 56 political prisoners
09/10/2013


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