News / Asia

Burma Releases Political Prisoners

Burmese political prisoners who were released from Insein prison walk away from the facility, May 17, 2013 in Rangoon.
Burmese political prisoners who were released from Insein prison walk away from the facility, May 17, 2013 in Rangoon.
VOA News
Burma has freed at least 21 political prisoners in the country's latest amnesty that comes just days before President Thein Sein makes a landmark visit to the United States.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma told VOA about the prisoner release, which was confirmed by government officials later Friday.

"We are confirming that 23 prisoners were released, but [we have] not received the complete information yet. Around 21 were political prisoners," Aung Myo Thein, the chief of the AAPP's Bangkok office, told reporters. He said details are still emerging about who exactly was freed.

A reporter for VOA's Burmese Service witnessed the release of 10 political prisoners from the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon. The exact number of those released remains unclear.

On Monday, President Thein Sein will become the first Burmese head-of-state to visit the U.S. in nearly 47 years. The visit comes after President Barack Obama in November became the first-ever sitting U.S. president to the visit Burma.

Washington has been re-engaging the government in Burma, which is emerging from nearly five decades of harsh military rule. The policy has upset some rights groups who say despite the changes, the country still has glaring human rights flaws.

Opposition activists cautiously welcomed the latest prisoner release. But some question the timing and sincerity of such amnesties, which for the past year often have coincided with important diplomatic events.

Soe Aung, an exiled Burmese activist living in Thailand, said it appears to be part of a "charm offensive" meant to gain more concessions from the White House.

"Why is the [prisoner] release happening now? Why is it coinciding with President Thein Sein's visit?" Soe Aung asked. "Because they want the United States to remove the remaining sanctions [against Burma] once and for all. And they are using this as their PR stunt."

Soe Aung said the U.S. and other governments that have been relaxing sanctions against Burma are "overly optimistic" about the country's progress.

Since a nominally civilian government took power in 2011, Burma has undergone major changes, including the prisoner releases, a relaxation of media restrictions and other economic reforms. In response, the U.S. government has expanded its engagement with the military-dominated government, in the hopes that it will encourage more reforms.

The latest example came this week, when the White House broke with nearly 25 years of U.S. diplomatic protocol in referring to the country as Myanmar, rather than Burma, as it is officially referred to in Washington.

A U.S. national security official said the reference, which was made in a White House statement announcing the visit of Thein Sein, was a "diplomatic courtesy," but denied it represents a change in U.S. policy.

President Obama also surprised many when he referred to the country as Myanmar during his November trip to the country.

Burmese activist Soe Aung said many with the opposition take issue with such references.

"Without the changes we would like to see, especially the legislative and institutional changes, the governments in the U.S. and the EU should not be rewarding the government with even small diplomatic awards, such as changing or calling the name from Burma to Myanmar, which is opposite the wishes of the people, especially in the democratic movement, both inside and outside Burma," the activist said.

Burma is the name preferred by democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her democracy movement. Since 1989, the military authorities in Burma have promoted the name "Myanmar" as the conventional name for their state.

Earlier this year, the Burmese government said it was offended that the U.S. still calls the country Burma, and requested that Washington change the policy in response to its recent reforms.

But many question whether that should happen, saying the U.S. should be hesitant to be delivering too many diplomatic courtesies to a government that, despite recent amnesties, is still thought to be holding around 200 prisoners of conscience behind bars.

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid