Wednesday, October 26, 2016
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Prisoners freed, but 60 remain behind bars

President U Thein Sein last week released 69 political prisoners, but 60 more are still languishing in jail, said U Ye Aung, a member of the Committee for Scrutinising Remaining Prisoners of Conscience.

Prisoners are released in Mandalay on November 15. Photo: AFPPrisoners are released in Mandalay on November 15. Photo: AFP

“The government released the prisoners according to our proposed list, but 60 are still in prison,” said U Ye Aung, who is also a member of the Former Political Prisoners (FPP) advocacy group.

Among the prisoners set free on November 15 were two grandchildren of former General Ne Win, who were released from Insein Prison in Yangon.

“Zwe Ne Win [one of General Ne Win’s grandsons] sent the names of [arrested grandsons] U Aye Ne Win and U Kyaw Ne Win to the committee. We agreed to put their names on the list after discussing whether they should be freed or not,” said U Ye Aung.

U Aye Ne Win and U Kyaw Ne Win were arrested in 2002 under the military regime of Senior General Than Shwe and sentenced to life in prison for allegedly attempting to stage a coup against the government.

Also released last week was Daw Naw Ohn, who had been arrested earlier this year during protests marking the nine-month anniversary of the brutal police crackdown against activists at Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region.

On August 29 she was sentenced by a court in Monywa to two years in prison. While in jail she staged a hunger strike.

“I was surprised when I learned that I would be set free from prison,” she said. “I always stand up for the rights of people, and I’ll continue to stand like this.”

Aside from Insein and Monywa jails, prisoners were also released last week from Myingan, Tharyarwady, Taungoo, Shwebo, Pathein, Thaton, Ingapu, Bhamo, Myitkyina, Thibaw, Kengtung, Kyaukpyu, Thandwe and Boothidaung.

Most of the prisoners had been convicted for high treason or offences under the Unlawful Association Act, which bars contact with illegal organisations; section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Protest Law; or section 505(b) of the Penal Code.

Meanwhile, activists have urged the government to release the remaining prisoners and to make no new arrests.

President U Thein Sein pledged on July 15 to release all political prisoners by the end of this year. He ordered the current amnesty the day before he left for Brunei to attend the 23rd ASEAN Summit.

“There are still 60 political prisoners who are entitled to release according to our criteria for ‘political prisoners of conscience’,” U Ye Aung said. “There are also additional names we have received, and [the Committee for Scrutinising Remaining Prisoners of Conscience] needs to discuss whether to add more of these names to the list.”

Although the FPP welcomed the fresh amnesty, the group’s spokesperson, U Thet Oo, called on the government to refrain from arresting anyone else taking part in peaceful protest campaigns.

“The government has gradually granted amnesties, but at the same time they have been charging activists involved in peaceful protests, usually under section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Protest Law,” he said.

“Authorities should not take action against those who are showing their desires and who are calling for their rights in line with democratic ways.”

According to the FPP’s list, more than 200 activists around the country have been charged under section 18 and are facing trial.

“It’s crucial to ensure that new prisoners of conscience do not take the place of old ones,” U Thet Oo said.

The government has granted amnesty for 29,820 prisoners since U Thein Sein took office on March 30, 2011.