RANGOON — The Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population officially announced on Wednesday the removal of over 600 people from Burma’s notorious blacklist.
A total of 619 names—of both foreign and Burmese nationals—were taken off of a previously existing blacklist of more than 4,380 people, minister Thein Swe told the reporters at a press conference in Naypyidaw.
The names which have been removed include individuals put on the blacklist by the former Thein Sein government for political reasons, according to Minister Thein Swe. He said there was no plan to disclose the blacklisted names, in order to protect the privacy of the people in question.
“Fifteen ministries are working together to scrutinize the list of blacklisted people and to continue relaxing regulations,” he added.
Despite the removals, activists are still skeptical about the announcement, which comes on the heels of an incident involving Maung Maung Wann, an educator, 88-generation political dissident and former Burmese political prisoner who was deported back to the US on Tuesday by Burmese immigration officers at the Rangoon International Airport. They claimed he was on the country’s blacklist.
Maung Maung Wann was in fact granted entry to Burma with the permission of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, but he was forced to return to the United States before being notified of this development.
So why was Maung Maung Wann, a US citizen, issued a visa by the Burmese embassy in the United States if his name was featured on a blacklist?
Myint Kyaing, a permanent secretary with the Immigration and Population Department, told The Irrawaddy that the name “Maung Maung Wann” was on the blacklist until August 2, but was removed.
However, spokesperson Aye Aye Soe of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed on Wednesday that the Burmese embassy in the US had issued him a visa because his name was not on the blacklist that the ministry had used as a reference.
Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar and a once-exiled activist, questioned the government mechanisms at play, describing them as “not transparent” and exhibiting a “lack of coordination.”
“The case proves there is a lack of coordination between respective ministries,” he said. “Such a blacklist—and the removals—should be announced publicly so that similar cases to Maung Maung Wann do not happen again.”
“Without knowing who is still on the blacklist and who has been removed, we can’t pressure the government about who else should be removed,” he explained.
Bo Kyi, of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) agreed that the current government faces challenges in reforming the much-criticized bureaucracy of its predecessors.
He also highlighted the lack of clear guidelines and government policy reflected in the removals. Some exiled activists have been forced to sign pledges that they will not engage in political activity in Burma, lest they face a rejection of their visa if they try to return.
Ko Ni, a legal advisor to the ruling National League for Democracy party, said that the current government should remove all names of those who were put on the blacklist by the former military junta due to their political stances or dissident beliefs. He also feels these changes should be publicly announced once they are finalized.
Former President Thein Sein’s administration removed more than 2,000 names from a blacklist of more than 6,000 in 2012—one year into his quasi-civilian rule. The names included many exiled pro-democracy activists, foreign journalists and political critics.