Burma Cancels Amnesty for Former Political Prisoner

By Nyein Nyein, Reform 8 May 2013

After being released as part of a mass amnesty for political prisoners under Burma’s nominally civilian government, a Burmese social activist has been forced to serve out the remainder of his prison sentence, in a rare legal case highlighting the remaining threat to activists even as the country transitions from military rule.

Nay Myo Zin, a former military captain turned social activist and opposition member, was one of 591 political prisoners released under a presidential pardon in January 2012, but his release, like that of all former political prisoners, was conditional. According to Burma’s penal code, any former political prisoner who is convicted of another crime is required to serve not only his new prison sentence, but also the remaining years of his old, canceled sentence.

Last week, Nay Myo Zin refused to pay a fine of 20,000 kyat (US $22) after being convicted in January of defaming a police officer in Irrawaddy Division. Instead, he agreed to serve a three-month prison sentence in the town of Maubin.

Despite his decision, he had hope of early release. On Tuesday, farmers in Pantanaw Township, where he was sentenced, collectively paid Nay Myo Zin’s fine in court so he could be a free man again.

But just before his release on Tuesday, the district administrator announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs would require Nay Myo Zin to serve the remaining years of his old, canceled sentence—or six more years in prison—according to Section 401 of the penal code.

“His mother and brother went to the Maubin prison to bring him out because the farmers had paid his fine on Tuesday,” said Nay Myo Zin’s wife, Zin Myo Maw. “But the order from [Minister] Ko Ko, of the Ministry of Home Affairs, came in and he was not released.”

Nay Myo Zin was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison in August 2011 for breaking the Electronic Transactions Act, a law that is highly criticized by free speech advocates.

His lawyer in the defamation case, Robert San Aung criticized the ministry’s order to keep him in prison.

“The court accepted the fine payment and wrote us the release warrant” on Tuesday, said Robert San Aung, who is also an activist and former political prisoner. “Section 401 should not be in the law anymore. It should not be in practice at the present time.

“The announcement of the presidential pardon on Jan. 13 last year said President Thein Sein was releasing those political prisoners for the sake of national reconciliation. This act is untenable given the push for reconciliation.”

The lawyer said he would submit a letter of petition to the president, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and Parliament’s committee on human rights and civil rights this month.