Burma Govt Releases 73 Political Prisoners

Former political prisoner Win Hla is a free man after he leaves Insein Prison in Rangoon on Tuesday. (Photo: Jpaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma’s President Thein Sein pardoned 73 political prisoners on Tuesday, a government advisor and a human right activist said. Among the released are 29 Shan ethnic rebels and 26 Kachin prisoners of conscience.

“In total, about 70 political prisoners will be released nationwide, including 26 Kachin prisoners,” said Hla Maung Shwe, a special government advisor at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC). He added that 13 detainees were being released from Kachin State’s Myitkyina Prison.

“They were released as part of an amnesty by the president — this was part of his pledge to the international community to release all political prisoners by the end of the year,” Hla Maung Shwe told The Irrawaddy. “This move will be a boost for the peace process.”

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) had previously demanded the release of 31 Kachin political prisoners. The group is currently in ceasefire talks with the central government.

Thet Oo, a spokesman of the Former Political Prisoners group in Rangoon, said 73 prisoners of conscience had been released on Tuesday.

He welcomed the president’s decision, but added, “We will be happy if they release all the people at the same time. We don’t like it that the government releases one group at a time.”

Thet Oo said prisoners had been released from at least six prisons located in Rangoon and in Moulmein, Hinzada, Shwebo, Myin Gyan and Myitkyina townships.

“Most of the released prisoners belonged to armed groups or were accused of belonging to an unlawful group,” he said, adding that one of the released had been accused of being a member of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front.

The Former Political Prisoners group welcomed six Burmese political prisoners who walked out of the gates of Rangoon’s Insein Prison on Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m happy to be free, but I also feel sad because I should have been released much earlier,” said Win Hla, before walking off.

Shan State Army-South Colonel Sai Khan said he had been informed that 29 members of his rebel group were being released on Tuesday.

“We received a list in the past two days, with 29 people who are to be released. We submitted a list requesting the release of 31 people,” he said. “It’s not immediately clear to us how many of them have already been released.”

Thet Oo said that an estimated 92 political prisoners still remain behind bars in Burma.

Hla Maung Shwe, of the MPC, said Lahtaw Brang Shawng, an ethnic Kachin farmer, was among the released.

Lahtaw Brang Shawng was arrested on June 17, 2012, in an internally displaced people’s camp in Myitkyina. He was charged with violating Article 17/1 of the Unlawful Associations Act for allegedly being a member of the KIA. Last Friday, he was sentenced to two years in prison.

Lahtaw Brang Shawng’s family and Kachin human rights activists have long campaigned for his release and his case was seen as an example of the human rights abuses that Kachin civilians face.

The repressive Unlawful Associations Act law is widely used by the government to detain Kachin civilians and combatants during the ethnic conflict in northern Burma. The Asian Human Rights Commission has said the 1908 act allows for accusing people of being “politically dangerous to the state by virtue of their identities.”

Lahtaw Brang Shawng’s lawyer Mar Khar welcomed his client’s released, but added, “I feel very sad about Brang Shawng’s imprisonment. He was tortured during interrogation even though he was just a normal civilian and had no link to the KIA.”

President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government has freed thousands of prisoners since taking office in 2011, including several hundred political prisoners, as part of sweeping reforms in Burma’s transition from military rule to democracy.

During a visit to the United Kingdom last week, Thein Sein said his government would release all prisoners of conscience before the year’s end. He also announced that a national peace conference with Burma’s 11 major ethnic rebel groups would be held this month.

Human rights groups have pointed out however, that Burma’s government recently arrested a number of activists for political reasons.

Wai Phyo, secretary of activist group Generation Wave, was detained by police in Pyay Township, Pegu Division, on July 9 on charges related to his group’s 2011 “Free Political Prisoners” poster campaign.

Last Thursday, Bauk Ja, an ethnic Kachin activist and member of the National Democratic Force political party, was arrested by police in Myitkyina, Kachin State, on negligent homicide charges.

Last year, Bauk Ja helped provide medical treatment in a remote Kachin village, but a local patient later died. A police officer and another villager recently filed a complaint against her in relation to the death. Her party said the charges are politically motivated.

On July 15, on the day of Thein Sein’s speech in London, security forces in Arakan State’s Sittwe Township arrested prominent Rohingya human rights lawyer Kyaw Hla Aung.

The 74-year-old lawyer was one of thousands internally displaced Muslims who are living at a camp near Sittwe following last year’s clashes with Arakanese Buddhist communities. He has spent many years in prison for his activism under Burma’s former military regime.

Last week, Amnesty International’s Burma researcher Amy Smith said that Kyaw Hla Aung “joins scores of other human rights defenders who have recently been arrested, charged, or detained for their involvement in peaceful activities.”

5 Responses to Burma Govt Releases 73 Political Prisoners

  1. Hail the President, a large number of prisoners from the fighting ethnic minorities were released!!!
    But 92 political prisoners are still behind bars, among the some who were retained very recently.

  2. Watch out the generals are fitting revolving doors on prisons in the run up to the 2015 election.

  3. Two in one out. Political Prisoners are used as tools to get favour from Western countries.

  4. Maung Lu Aye ( Law )R.A.S.U.1976

    I have No Concern about U Thein Sein’s Quasi-Govt & Western Countries are Playing Cat & Mouse, Bargaining the Release of the Political Prisoners to get favour. These PPs are Human Beings. In Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1 “All Human Beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights .They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of Brotherhood.” Most of the Grassroot Burma’s Citizens are struggling for their Survival, they have Not so much idea that So-called Govt. is taken advantage upon them,Bullying them,Confiscating their land ( Most of the Land in Burma are signed “Tatmadaw land /Tat Myay.) How come they/Military own so many land, almost the whole Country. And Even Ex-Military Men & Ne Win, Than Shwe’s sympathizers own 2-3 Land for One family. At Everybody last Breath, One’s only need 6 feets square land from Head to The Feet to bury ( Leo Tolstoy’s How much land does a man need ? )
    The Late UN General Secretary U Thant’s Funeral was intend to bury at the famous University Student’s Union/Kyaung Thar Thatmagha. Ne Win’s Govt. forbid the Students that the Land was own by The BSPP’s Govt. The Students Leaders announced that the Genuine Owner was U Nyo. What a Great,Great Shame ?
    Gen.U Thein Sein,Gen. Shwe Mann & Other Military Personnel in Civilians Clothes who are Representatives of the Hlut-Taw. As Gen.Aung San ‘s desire, Burma Military to Serve the People. Not The People to Serve the Military. Better go back to where you belong in order that the People feel Safe,happy, joy & Harmony.

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