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Political Prisoner Releases Welcome but also Highlights Return to Than Shwe Approach

By Burma Campaign UK  •  July 31, 2015

Burma Campaign UK today welcomed the release of around 13 political prisoners as part of an amnesty given by President Thein Sein to almost 7,000 prisoners. 11 of the political prisoners released were cases that Burma Campaign UK has been actively campaigning on.

However, releasing the prisoners in this way heralds a return to the way the previous military dictatorship released political prisoners. It highlights how the Burmese government is no longer making any effort to end the jailing of political prisoners once and for all.

Amnesties such as this happened every year or two under the previous military dictatorship. Around 7,000 people being released was not unusual. Political prisoners were usually included in the amnesties, but normally the number of political prisoners released would be higher than those released by President Thein Sein this week. For example, in 2009 under a similar amnesty with a similar number of releases, President Than Shwe released 127 political prisoners.

President Thein Sein ordered a series of releases of political prisoners after becoming President in 2011. Although these were usually used in tandem with key political moments and visits by foreign leaders to garner good publicity, significant numbers of political prisoners were released and his government was actively engaged on the issue.

However, with most sanctions lifted, having gained international acceptance, and with trade flowing, pressure for the release of all political prisoners was relaxed. President Thein Sein broke his promise to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013. Since then the number of political prisoners has steadily grown, now numbering at least 160. Well over a thousand activists and farmers are currently awaiting trial.

“Rather than any comprehensive effort to ensure there are no political prisoners, we are now back to waiting for the annual prisoners amnesty and hoping a few political prisoners are included,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “It’s time a new political prisoner committee is established which can independently review cases and ensure all political prisoners are released.”

In April 2015, twenty-three human rights organisations from around the world published proposals for a new committee to address the issue of political prisoners in Burma: http://burmacampaign.org.uk/burmamyanmars-prisoners-of-conscience-affairs-committee-needs-urgent-reform-22-organisations/

For more information contact:
Twitter: @MarkFarmaner
Mobile: 0794 123 9640
Tel: 00 44 (0)207 324 4713
E-mail: mark.farmaner@burmacampaign.org.uk

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