RANGOON – The Burma government on Wednesday released 41 political prisoners from its jails, leaving only 44 prisoners of conscience in the country, according to the leading group campaigning on the issue.
The latest amnesty comes a matter of weeks before the end of the year, by which point President Thein Sein has pledged that no more political prisoners will remain in Burma. It also coincides with a high level of international attention on the country as the opening ceremony of the South East Asian Games takes place in Naypyidaw on Wednesday night.
A list of people in Burmese prisons classified as prisoners of conscience—compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and the Political Prisoners Assessment Committee, a joint panel that includes government representation—records that before Wednesday 85 political prisoners remained incarcerated.
According Ko Talky, the AAPP’s local assistant in Rangoon, 44 people were released from prisons in Burma on Wednesday. “From the list, only 41 were political prisoners,” he said.
He said AAPP did not know who the other three prisoners released Wednesday were.
That means 44 confirmed political prisoners are still in jail, Ko Talky said, adding that AAPP was working with the government to ensure they are all free by the end of the year.
The 41 political prisoners were released from prisons in Tha Hton in Mon State, Insein in Rangoon, Pathein in Irrawaddy Division, Myitkyina in Kachin State, Hpa-an in Karen State, Pegu, Okkan, Tharyarwady and Taungoo in Pegu Division, Taunggyi in Shan State, Mandalay, and Buthitaung in Arakan State, said Ko Talky.
They included Moe Thway and six other people jailed for protesting against the Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper mine protest. It also included activist Win Cho and six fellow land rights protesters convicted three months ago under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act, which outlaws protesting without prior permission from authorities.
Moe Thway, who served 20 days of a one-month sentence at Insein Prison, also under Section 18, said he was still facing numerous charges for protesting without permission.
“I’m close to release, but I will still have to face the rest my cases—totaling 15—under Section 18, in the Pabetan and Bahan township courts, for which I am on bail,” Moe Thway said.
“All my fellow protesters, including Student Union leader De Nyein Lin and other four people have been released too,” he added.
In another amnesty on Nov, 15, 69 people, including two grandsons of the late Burmese dictator Ne Win, were released. That amnesty included about two dozen people sentenced under Section 18.
Critics say Section 18 is increasingly being used to stifle protest, even as the government has released hundreds of prisoners of conscience since it began a process of political and economic reforms two years ago.