Political Prisoners Committee Criticizes Govt Inaction

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 16 December 2014

RANGOON — Members of the Committee for Scrutinizing Remaining Political Prisoners have complained that efforts to assess the cases of prisoners jailed for political reasons are stalling due to a lack of government cooperation.

“We are doing our job, making a list of inmates who we consider political prisoners, but the problem is the government doesn’t call meetings,” said Ye Aung, a member of the committee. “We can’t discuss the issue, and all our work has stalled.”

The committee was founded in May 2013, with government assistance and at the urging of the United States, to release political prisoners as part of the country’s democratic transition. The committee is comprised of cabinet members, political party representatives, civil society organizations and former political prisoner associations.

The last meeting of the committee was held in July.

After scrutinizing a number of cases, the committee formally recognized 27 prisoners as political prisoners after scrutiny in December last year, and all of them remain behind bars, according to Ye Aung.

“Not all political prisoners were prosecuted on political charges,” said Ye Aung. “They didn’t receive a fair trial. They were also charged with criminal charges. That’s why they still remain behind bars.”

Government representatives on the committee said that the 27 prisoners were prosecuted with criminal charges and are thus exempt from President Thein Sein’s amnesty for political prisoners, citing testimony from the Correctional Department.

This year, nearly 40 people jailed under various laws have been labeled political prisoners, including activists charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, journalists, and farmers protesting against land confiscations.

Committee member Sai Nyunt Lwin, a representative of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, told The Irrawaddy that plans are underway to reconstitute the committee to be able to operate more effectively.

Last year, a total of 420 political prisoners were released with the assistance of the committee.