News / Asia

Burma Issues Prisoner Amnesty Ahead of Obama Visit

A prisoner, center, is welcomed by her relative outside Insein prison in Rangoon after the government released prisoners, November 15, 2012.
A prisoner, center, is welcomed by her relative outside Insein prison in Rangoon after the government released prisoners, November 15, 2012.
VOA News
Activists dismissed the Burmese government's latest move to release hundreds of prisoners, saying it is a ploy to gain political support ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the country.

State media said Thursday that President Thein Sein will pardon 452 prisoners in an effort to promote bilateral relations.  Officials said political prisoners will be among those released, but activists and rights groups said they have not yet seen any dissidents freed.

Prisoner Releases in Burma:

February 2009: 6,313 prisoners freed, 24 were political.

September 2009: 7,114 prisoners freed, 28 were political.

May 2011: 14,578 prisoners freed, 55 were political.

January 2012: 651 prisoners freed, all were political.

September 2012: 514 prisoners freed, as many as 90 were political.
Moe Thway with Generation Wave, a pro-democracy youth movement, said promises made by Burma's reformist government should not be trusted.

"To my opinion, the current government is just playing a game, and they are not being sincere. I feel like this. And if they are really sincere, they should let all the political prisoners free immediately," Moe said.

President Obama arrives in Burma Monday for a landmark visit, which is largely seen as an endorsement of Burma's democratic reforms in the past year and a half.

Since taking office in March 2011, President Thein Sein has overseen a number of political reforms that enabled the long-detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in the political process.

He has also granted amnesty to hundreds of prisoners. The last major amnesty was granted in September when about 90 dissidents were among more than 500 inmates released.

But Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, estimates that there are still at least 330 political detainees behind bars.

The United States has repeatedly urged the new civilian government to release all of the remaining political prisoners.

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