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

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office 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.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs