Lawmaker Urges Government to Release All Political Prisoners

By Pe Thet Htet Khin 22 June 2017

NAYPYITAW — A lawmaker questioned the Upper House on Wednesday on why there were still political prisoners in Myanmar more than one year after the National League for Democracy (NLD) assumed office.

Lawmaker U Kyaw Kyaw of Rakhine State (4) Constituency cited Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who once said there should be no political prisoners in a democracy, as he urged the government to release such prisoners.

“Political prisoners are not the enemies of the government except when the government is authoritarian. In fact, political prisoners should participate in establishing a democratic nation,” the lawmaker argued.

Myanmar has more than 80 political prisoners and 100 more facing trial, he told the Upper House.

Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Maj-Gen Aung Soe said the government has no definition of political prisoners or political offenses. It takes action against lawbreakers according to existing laws, he added.

“The incumbent government has said it still has no plans to define ‘political prisoner.’ At present, we take action in response to the violation of existing laws. And for the time being, we don’t treat cases as political offenses or not,” Maj-Gen Aung Soe told reporters after the parliamentary session.

In line with the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, the president has granted amnesty when he has believed it to be appropriate. Since taking office, the new government has released 286 Myanmar prisoners and 73 foreigner prisoners in six amnesties, he told Parliament.

Lawmaker U Kyaw Kyaw gave his definition of political prisoners as “those who are imprisoned by the government for their political activities that run outside the government’s political beliefs.”

While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was the opposition leader, she said, “one political prisoner is too many in a democracy,” added U Kyaw Kyaw.

“The State Counselor has the full authority—higher than the president. She has many opportunities to release all political prisoners in cooperation with the president and the home ministry,” he said.

The government of former President U Thein Sein formed a committee to define ‘political prisoner,’ but did not finish the task before it left office. Of the incumbent lawmakers in Myanmar’s bicameral parliament, more than 100 are former political prisoners, said U Kyaw Kyaw.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.