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Released Political Prisoners Reaffirm Their Commitment to Working for Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Burma

By Burma Partnership  •  October 17, 2011

On 12 October, the regime released 6,359 prisoners from prisons across the country. However, the amnesty included only 220 political prisoners, leaving as many as 1,800 behind bars. The international community overwhelmingly responded by urging the regime to release the remaining political prisoners, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana.

Burmese language media and blogs carried many moving interviews with political prisoners who were released, in which they spoke about detention conditions, the disappointing number of political prisoners released and how they would continue to work to improve the situation of human rights and democracy in Burma.

One of the most prominent political prisoners released, and most vocal critics, has been the popular comedian Zarganar. Arrested in 2008 for criticizing the regime’s relief efforts in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, Zarganar has never been one to tread lightly. Upon his release, the comedian immediately began criticizing the regime for not releasing all political prisoners, saying that they are being used by the regime as bargaining chips with the international community. Zarganar described President Thein Sein’s efforts at national reconciliation as “applying make-up to a paralyzed old woman and sending her out into the street.” He also declared that he would do everything he could to help ensure that all political prisoners are released by the end of the year, and today, announced his plan to visit political prisoners who are still detained and distribute packages “as moral support.”

Phyo Phyo Aung is a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) who was arrested in 2008 on her way home to Rangoon after volunteering in the delta area hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis. After serving the majority of her 4-year sentence in Moulmein prison in Mon State, she was released on 12 October with her father and two colleagues who had all been charged under the Unlawful Association Act. Phyo Phyo Aung told Mizzima that she was glad to be free, but sad that more political prisoners weren’t released. She vowed to continue her work as a member of the ABFSU.

Prominent labour activist Su Su Nway also spoke briefly to the Voice Weekly (Burmese), reiterating her colleagues’ sadness that other political prisoners remained in jail. She also said that she would continue to follow her beliefs and do political work.

These former political prisoners illustrate the dedication of all those who have been arrested and detained for their beliefs and acts of resistance in Burma. The injustice of being imprisoned has strengthened their desire to see genuine democratic progress and national reconciliation in the country, which they have articulated clearly will not be possible as long as their colleagues remain in prison.

The international community must continue to stand with them by maintaining calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners. This is the first of several crucial steps towards genuine democratization and national reconciliation in Burma, including a nation-wide ceasefire and inclusive political dialogue with representatives of ethnic nationalities, including armed groups, and the pro-democracy movement, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. ASEAN, the UN and governments around the world must use this opportunity to pressure the regime to take these meaningful steps without further delay.

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