US Urges Outgoing Govt to Free All Political Prisoners

By Tin Htet Paing 19 January 2016

RANGOON — During his second diplomatic visit to Burma, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the outgoing government to free all remaining political prisoners before the National League for Democracy (NLD) takes the mantle at the end of March.

The deputy secretary on Monday met with President Thein Sein, Burma Army second-in-command Soe Win and NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won nearly 80 percent of contested seats in Burma’s historic Nov. 8 election.

Blinken told reporters in Naypyidaw that the United States would carry on its role as a “full and committed partner” to the former hermit state in its political transition, saying more exactly that Washington would help to resolve lingering issues, including freeing remaining prisoners of conscience.

 “Remaining political prisoners must be released and human rights protected for all, no matter their ethnicity or religion,” Blinken told the press. “Reforms need to continue until an elected civilian government is truly sovereign and all the country’s institutions answer to the people.”

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, some 128 political prisoners sit behind bars in Burma, and another 472—overwhelmingly journalists, student and land rights activists and people accused of defamation on social media—await trial. Twenty-three of these activists have been arrested just since the November general election, many charged with flouting Article 18 of the controversial Peaceful Assembly Law.

The deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, echoed Blinken’s sentiment in the report released Monday.

“Thein Sein shouldn’t wait for the new government to take office in late March to free those who should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” he said.

“Burma’s growing number of political prisoners is the most glaring indictment of President Thein Sein’s human rights record. In the waning days of his administration, the president could leave a positive legacy by immediately and unconditionally freeing all of those unjustly held.”

Thein Sein has released more than 1,000 political prisoners over the course of his five-year political tenure.