Ne Win’s Grandsons Among 69 Released Political Prisoners

By Nyein Nyein 15 November 2013

President Thein Sein pardoned 69 political prisoners and they are being released from 18 prisons on Friday. Two grandsons of the late Burmese dictator General Ne Win are among those who are set free, a human rights group said.

An announcement by the President’s Office said that “the released prisoners were suggested by the Political Prisoners Assessment Committee.” This government-appointed committee, comprising cabinet members and rights activists, is tasked with determining which prisoners are being held for political reasons.

Kyaw Ne Win and Aye Ne Win, two grandsons of former dictator Ne Win, are being released from Rangoon’s Insein prison on Friday, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

They were charged with high treason for plotting to overthrow the then military regime and sentenced to a suspended death sentence in 2002, shortly after Ne Win died while under house arrest on Dec. 5, 2002.

Four family members of Ne Win were arrested at the time in relation to a coup d’état plot. Ne Win’s son-in-law Aye Zaw Win and another grandson, Zwae Ne Win, were released from prison in January 2012. Ne Win’s daughter Sandar Win was released from house arrest in 2008.

AAPP Secretary Bo Kyi said Kyaw Ne Win and Aye Ne Win had been put on the committee’s list of political prisoners following a letter of their family, requesting their release.

Friday’s prisoners release also includes about two dozen people sentenced under article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act, which sets a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment for organizing a protest without a government permit.
Naw Ohn Hla, a female activist who had organized protests against the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division, was released from Mandalay Prison on Friday, along with two other local activists. They had been sentenced to prison terms of up to two years under article 18 and the Penal Code’s article 505 b, which sets penalties for inciting public unrest.
In Arakan State, a total of 21 Arakanese activists were set free.

Nine activists, who had been sentenced under article 18 for leading unauthorized protests against aid support plans for the Rohingya Muslim community, were released, according to Htun Naing, a member of Arakan Social Network. Women’s activist Nyo Aye was among them.

Another 12 Arakanese community activists were set free in Kyaukphyu and Thandwe townships, where they had been imprisoned for organizing protests against the Shwe oil and gas pipeline.

Civil society groups in Burma recently begun a campaign calling for amendments to article 18, as they argue it is being used to stifle public dissent and peaceful protests.

Fifteen ethnic prisoners, from Shan and Kachin states, were also released on Friday. They were serving lengthy prison terms after they were sentenced under article 17 of the Unlawful Association Act, a draconian junta-era law often used to apprehend suspected ethnic rebels and activists.

Bo Kyi, of AAPP, welcomed the release of the 69 political prisoners, but said that the government had stopped short of acknowledging that they had been held as prisoners of conscience.

“All those released people need to be recognized as political prisoners, but the government now releases them without recognizing them as such,” he said. According to AAPP, 60 political prisoners remain behind bars in Burma, while 265 political activists are currently on trial and potentially facing imprisonment.

“We want all the remaining political prisoners to be freed without any condition,” said Bo Kyi.

Since assuming office in 2011, Thein Sein’s reformist, nominally-civilian government has released hundreds of political prisoners, most of who were detained by the previous military regime.
Last month, 56 political prisoners were released. Thein Sein has said that before the end of this year all prisoners of conscience will be released.

In its statement on Friday, the President’s Office said the Political Prisoners Assessing Committee is “working to be able to free all the political prisoners before the end of December.”