News / Asia

New Burma Committee Will Look Into Political Prisoner Release

A man holds a poster calling for the freedom of political prisoners in front of the Rangoon University where U.S. President Barack Obama was giving a speech, November 19, 2012.
A man holds a poster calling for the freedom of political prisoners in front of the Rangoon University where U.S. President Barack Obama was giving a speech, November 19, 2012.
VOA News
Burmese President Thein Sein has announced the formation of a committee to look into the release of the hundreds of political prisoners still thought to be behind bars in his country.

The president's office Thursday said the new committee will "scrutinize the remaining political prisoners serving their terms in prisons throughout the country so as to grant them liberty."

Activists say this is the first time the president, who has a reputation as a reformer, has explicitly referred to prisoners of conscience as "political prisoners."

Since taking power in 2011, President Thein Sein has released hundreds of activists, journalists and others as part of a program the government says is aimed at national reconciliation.

Prisoner Releases in Burma

  • February 2009: 6,313 prisoners freed; 24 were political.
  • Select your text
  • 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 said to be political.
  • September 2012: 514 prisoners freed; as many as 90 were political.
But critics have complained that the amnesty program has not gone far enough. They say that about 200 dissidents and other prisoners of conscience remain in jail.

In the statement Thursday, the president's office said the committee first will determine who is a prisoner of conscience, and then will come up with a framework for releasing them.

It said the committee likely will be chaired by Union Minister U Soe Thane and made up of representatives from various government ministries, civil societies and some political parties.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a leading Burmese exile group, tells VOA it has accepted a government offer to take part in the committee.

AAPP Chief of Office Aung Myo Thein calls the announcement an "important first step" toward releasing all of Burma's political prisoners. He says he believes his organization has a willing partner in the Burmese government.

"The AAPP welcomes this process," said Aung. "[The government] invited the AAPP to be involved in this committee. The AAPP has agreed that one representative will participate."

The AAPP estimates there are at least 240 political prisoners still jailed in Burma.

Soe Aung, who works for the Thailand-based Forum for Democracy in Burma, also welcomes the move. He says it is important that the committee come up with an accurate list of political prisoners as soon as possible.

"This should be done sooner rather than later," he said. "(But) it should be welcomed if the president mentioned in his statement that they are political prisoners, because they have been denying this fact for so long."

Others remain skeptical. Mark Farmaner of the rights group Burma Campaign UK tells VOA that in order to have credibility, the committee must have the involvement of independent, international experts.

"It's a government-controlled committee with government people on it, chaired by someone very close to the president, so its independence will be in doubt if there's not involvement of the international community's expertise," Farmaner said.

Farmaner says there also is an issue of how prisoners, many of whom were tortured and have serious health problems, are treated once they are freed.

"So far, most of the political prisoners that have been released have been released only conditionally," he said. "There's been no apology, no acceptance that they never should have been jailed in the first place. There's no compensation at all for them."

He says some dissidents who have criticized the government after gaining their freedom have been re-arrested, harassed or had their movements restricted.  

"The repressive laws that put these people in jail in the first place are all still on the books. And you've got more people being jailed now, even under new laws being brought in to supposedly give people more rights," Farmaner said.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs