News / Asia

    Burma Releases Prominent Political Prisoners

    Burma's former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who was once the powerful chief of military intelligence (MI), speaks after his release from house arrest in Rangoon January 13, 2012.
    Burma's former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who was once the powerful chief of military intelligence (MI), speaks after his release from house arrest in Rangoon January 13, 2012.

    Burma has released numerous prominent political prisoners in a significant step toward ending Western economic sanctions against the country.  The presidential amnesty was cautiously welcomed by rights groups who warned dissidents still lack legal protections.

    Authorities in Burma Friday said a total of 651 prisoners would be released under an amnesty endorsed by President Thein Sein to foster national reconciliation.

    They include some of the most prominent jailed leaders of failed democracy movements, former officials who fell out of favor, and journalists.

    Among them was the student leader of Burma’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising Min Ko Naing, leader of the 2007 Buddhist monk protests, U Gambira, and ethnic Shan leader Khun Tun Oo, who was serving a 93-year-sentence for sedition.

    Authorities also released former prime minister and spy chief Khin Nyunt who was purged in 2004 along with dozens of his colleagues.

    Aung Khaing Min, who is with the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma, says the group welcomes the releases and expect altogether around 400 political prisoners to be given back their freedom.  But he cautions, unlike past amnesties, their sentences were only suspended and not commuted.  

    "If the government wants to imprison them again, yes they can because the term of the release is just temporary or just postponement of the sentence," he said.

    The AAPPB says despite the release of prominent political prisoners there are still hundreds more behind bars.

     

    Recent Prisoner Releases in Burma

    • February 20, 2009:  6,313 prisoners freed, 24 were political
    • September 17, 2009:  7,114 prisoners freed, 28 were political
    • May 16, 2011:  14,578 prisoners freed, 55 were political
    • January 13, 2012:  651 prisoners freed, all 651 were political

    Burma’s military-backed government refuses to officially recognize political prisoners, labeling them as common criminals.

    Aung Khaing Min says prisoners affiliated with armed ethnic groups or jailed under immigration laws would not be included in the release.  He adds there are several laws that need to change to prevent more dissidents from being locked up.

    "Electronics Transactions Act, for example, was enacted in 2004, designed to imprison political activists with longer sentences," he added. "And, for example, Article 71 and 72, Unlawful Association Act, those are commonly used to oppress the opposition or political dissent."

    The release of all political prisoners is one requirement by Western nations for economic sanctions against Burma to be lifted.

    The United States, the European Union, and others limit trade with Burma because of military abuses and suppression of democracy.

    The prisoner releases came as U.S. Congressman Joe Crowley, a key supporter of sanctions, is in Burma for meetings with officials and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Her National League for Democracy party is a big supporter of sanctions to maintain pressure on authorities for reforms.  

    The Nobel Prize winner was released from house arrest in 2010 just days after controversial elections that brought President Thein Sein to power.

    His nominally civilian government took office in March replacing decades of overt military rule.

    Critics say the elections merely cemented military power in the guise of democracy.

    But President Thein Sein surprised observers with a series of reforms, including holding direct talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, seeking peace with ethnic rebel groups, and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora