MANDALAY – In the latest in a string of prisoner amnesties, Burma’s President Thein Sein has promised to release more than 3,000 people from the nation’s jails to mark the end of Buddhist lent.
A statement by the President’s Office, released on Tuesday, announced that the prisoners will be granted freedom on account of their “good manners” and in accordance with the Constitution.
“The 3,073 prisoners [receiving amnesty] are being released because they have been serving their prison terms and behaving with good manners during imprisonment,” read the statement. “They have been released as a humanitarian act with respect to the state’s peace and stability, the rule of law and national solidarity.”
Among the thousands released are 3,015 Burmese nationals and 58 foreigners, the statement said. While the identities of the prisoners have not been disclosed, at least eight are believed to have been former high-ranking Military Intelligence officials jailed after a 2004 purge that followed the ousting of former spy chief Khin Nyunt by then-Snr-Gen Than Shwe.
Only two of those granted amnesty have thus far been identified as prisoners of conscience, while most are believed to have been jailed for ordinary crimes, according to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP-B).
The AAPP-B said that former Brig-Gen Thein Swe, Col. Maung Than, Lt-Col Min Thu, Lt-Col Myint Oo, Maj. San Aung, Maj. Aung Kyaw Moe and three other military men were among those freed from several facilities nationwide.
The two identified as political prisoners, Mar La and Saw Mya Saw, had both been jailed on charges of unlawful association with ethnic armed groups, according to AAPP-B.
Bo Kyi, secretary of AAPP-B, emphasized that the latest amnesty should not be mistaken by the international community as a meaningful gesture by Thein Sein’s government, which has repeatedly promised to rid the nation’s jails of all prisoners of conscience.
“This pardon is nothing more than what they [the government] usually do,” Bo Kyi told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, “a big ceremony. There are still 75 prisoners of conscience and 65 farmers in jail for political activity.”
Bo Kyi added that observers ought to question why the authorities have failed to announce details such as the identities and nationalities of those being released.
“If the government truly cares about transparency, they should announce who they are pardoning,” he continued. “We have to find out on our own, and prison authorities often do not want to tell us the details.”
Bo Kyi, who also serves on the Political Prisoners Scrutinizing Committee – an oversight body created by the government in 2013 to identify and eliminate prisoners of conscience – warned that the amnesty does not indicate that the country has improved its treatment of activists, particularly farmers speaking out about land rights since the reform process began.
“On the one hand, the government is making a show of releasing a lot of prisoners. On the other hand, they are still arresting, suing and jailing activists and farmers,” Bo Kyi said.
“The world is watching. The people of Burma are watching. If they really want to win favor from the international community or even from their own people, they must stop this oppression and unfair imprisonment,” he added.
According to AAPP-B statistics, about 75 political prisoners and 65 wrongly imprisoned farmers remain behind bars, while more than 100 activists and over 500 farmers are currently facing charges that could land them in jail for political activities.