Myanmar Pardons 3,000 Prisoners
by Steve Herman October 07, 2014
Myanmar's government announced it will free more than 3,000 prisoners before the country hosts a major regional political summit next month.
It is unclear how many political prisoners are being released.
The information ministry in Yangon announced Tuesday it is conducting the mass release of prisoners before an auspicious full moon festival in the predominately Buddhist country.
Information minister and presidential spokesman U Ye Htut told VOA President Thein Sein ordered the amnesty.
"The president issued a pardon for over 3,073,' said Ye Htut. 'And according to our information there are 3,015 Myanmar citizens and 58 foreigners. The president made this pardon based on national reconciliation and humanitarian grounds."
Former political prisoner Bo Kyi said it appears only one of the more than 70 civilians still imprisoned for political offenses is being freed.
The founder of the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners said the only such person he sees on the current pardon list fitting that description is named Mar La.
He noted 15 of those being released are ordinary elderly prisoners and some former military intelligence officers.
Most notable among those freed is Brigadier General Thein Swe, who was sentenced to 152 years in prison following the 2004 ouster of an ex-intelligence chief.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, was under harsh military rule from 1962 through 2011.
Since then, the army has been leading a transition to civilian democracy with a general election promised for late next year.
The president, who is a former general and took power in 2011, has released more than 1,000 political prisoners and had pledged to release all of them by last year.
Amnesty International response
Rights group Amnesty International criticized Myanmar for still holding political prisoners, despite the pledge by the country's leader.
'The President's failure to follow through on his promise to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of 2013 is extremely disappointing,' said Olof Blomqvist, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific press officer.
'The Myanmar authorities have, since the transition started, consistently spun the line that the country has turned a corner on human rights - but the ground reality is very different,' he said. 'The authorities continue to rely on draconian laws to silence and imprison those peacefully expressing their opinions. As long as these laws are in place, peaceful activists will continue to be locked up, and any amnesties will in the long run not have much effect.'
VOA Burmese service also contributed to this report from Yangon.
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