RANGOON — After being released from prison as part of a mass presidential amnesty, two high-ranking Military Intelligence officials have been detained again, a presidential spokesman said Friday.
The officials were freed from separate jails after President Thein Sein granted pardons on Monday to people convicted of or charged with a number of political offenses, but were put back into detention the same day because they still face other criminal charges.
“They were not re-arrested. They have extra charges—this is why they were detained again,” said Ye Htut, the official spokesman for President Thein Sein. “In the case of these two people, they are not political prisoners, they are just normal prisoners.”
Col Tin Oo was released Monday from a prison in Lashio, northern Shan State, but detained again by authorities while attempting to board a flight back to Rangoon. Col Moe Thu was detained at Rangoon airport after being released from a prison in Pa-an, Karen State.
“We received news that he came out of prison, but we did not get any more details about why he did not come home,” his brother Myat Thu told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “Later we heard he was detained again. I think there are some other cases and he may be detained again for a while.”
The two men were among 20 former MI officials who were detained in 2004, after then-dictator Gen Than Shwe abolished the feared MI unit and ousted then-Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who had once been the unit’s chief. At the time, some suspected a power struggle between Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt.
MI officials were responsible for locking up thousands of anti-government dissenters in prisons under military rule. They were jailed for treason in 2004 and are technically classified as political prisoners, but proposals to release them have been controversial.
Thein Sein has released hundreds of prisoners over the past week. On Monday he called for the release of all the dozens of remaining political prisoners, including many members of ethnic armed groups. On Thursday night, he commuted the sentences of hundreds of other prisoners detained on criminal charges in honor of Burma’s Independence Day on Saturday.
The Political Prisoners Scrutinizing Committee, a government-backed group tasked with counting the number of political prisoners behind bars and working toward their release, says it requested the release of former MI officials.
As part of the Independence Day presidential pardon for non-political prisoners, local media reported that at least 800 people were released Friday, but the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which is represented on the Political Prisoners Scrutinizing Committee, said only three political prisoners were among them.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut could not confirm how many people were released Friday.
Thein Sein in July pledged to free all remaining political prisoners by 2014. As of mid-December, dozens remained behind bars. At least five political prisoners were released Monday from prisons around the country, and more have been freed since then, with others expected to be released in coming days.