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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs