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Committee to review political prisoners

Statement says body will urge freedom for confirmed prisoners of conscience

A former political prisoner speaks to reporters after his release from Insein prison last year A former political prisoner speaks to reporters after his release from Insein prison last year
  • Daniel Wynn, Yangon
  • Myanmar
  • February 7, 2013
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The government on Thursday announced that it would create a committee that would oversee the release of any remaining political prisoners in the country, a development that has long been urged by the international community as necessary for greater engagement.

A statement by the Office of the President said the committee would include a government minister and members of political parties and civil society groups to review which prisoners could rightly be called political prisoners and submit recommendations for release to President Thein Sein.

Myanmar has long denied the existence of any political prisoners, saying instead that only criminals remain in prison.

The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), estimates that 280 political prisoners currently remain in detention.

Naing Naing, an NLD official and former political prisoner, welcomed the announcement as a good gesture towards real political reform in the country.

“Political civilization in our country is making a comeback,” he told ucanews.com.

Ko Tun Kyi of the Yangon-based Former Political Prisoners Association put the number of political prisoners at closer to 300 and said confusion exists on the exact number because successive military regimes in the past have jailed political dissidents on trumped-up non-political charges.

“We had a case of an NLD official being jailed for allegedly holding a fake national identity card even though the real reason was purely political,” he said.

“But these cases should be resolved successfully if the government has the genuine desire to release anyone jailed for political reasons.”

He added, however, that current lists of prisoners compiled by his group and the NLD do not include people jailed in Kachin state for alleged links to the opposition Kachin Independence Army.

Before the country’s nominal civilian government took power in 2011, there were an estimated 2,000 political detainees.

The government issued a series of prisoner amnesties in the months following national elections that ushered in democratic reforms.

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