Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Myanmar amnesty slammed by activists days before Obama visit

None of the prisoners released in advance of President Barack Obama’s historic visit on Monday, November 19 were considered political prisoners, human rights activists say.

As of Thursday, November 15, President U Thein Sein had granted an amnesty to 452 prisoners, including a number of foreigners, under the constitution.

But a spokesperson for the Former Political Prisoners’ Association said it was disappointing none were prisoners of conscience.

"According to our records, a total of 231 political prisoners are still left in prison. None of them were included in this amnesty," said U Thet Oo.

He said the amnesty was extended only to those who had less than six months remaining on their sentences, as well as sick and disabled inmates, gamblers and foreigners.

"It is strange that they released prisoners just before Obama's visit," National League for Democracy spokesperson U Ohn Kyaing said.

"They should have done it before and showed their genuine will to give the amnesty," he said, adding that it was unclear if any NLD members were among those being freed.

According to state-run media, the prisoners were set free for "establishing the stability of the state and eternal peace, on humanitarian grounds, to turn them into citizens who do their bit in nation-building … and for prolonging friendship with neighbouring countries".

The report said the government would extradite the foreign prisoners.

In October 2011, the government released about 200 prisoners of conscience, followed by approximately 300 in January, including prominent 88 Generation leaders.

In July, President U Thein Sein freed 46 prisoners, 22 of whom were prisoners of conscience, while dozens more dissidents were released in September, just before the president’s historic visit to the United Nations in New York.

Estimates of the number remaining behind bars vary but the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thailand-based campaign group, put the figure at 283 in a list posted on its website on October 31.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in July that more than 300 prisoners of conscience remained behind bars.

"According to our records, about 330 political prisoners are still waiting to be released. We will continue to urge the government to release all of them," she said.

Campaigners including New York-based Human Rights Watch cast doubt on the motivation for the latest amnesty, which comes as President Obama will on November 19 become the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar, where he will meet President U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

"It seems there is a new game in Burma, which is the political prisoners game," said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, calling the release "cynical" and lacking in transparency.

With assistance from AFP