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Govt releases political prisoners

Assistance groups say at least 24 dissidents included in amnesty

  • John Zaw, Mandalay
  • Myanmar
  • July 3, 2012
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Myanmar today released at least 24 political prisoners in a move the state news agency said was part of efforts towards “national reconciliation.”

In the first amnesty for political prisoners since landmark polls on April 1 saw opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi elected as a member of parliament, prisoner assistance groups in Myanmar and Thailand said those released included members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Kyaw Kyaw, an NLD member sentenced to 29 years for political activities in 2002, and Than Zaw, another party member who campaign groups say was wrongly convicted and sentenced to 31 years in prison for a bomb attack on a bus in Rangoon in 1989, were among dissidents released today.

“I thank those who have called for releasing all remaining political prisoners but I don’t say ‘thank you’ to the authorities who released me today as I was wrongly accused and put into prison with injustice,” said Than Zaw, who was released from Thayet in the centre of Myanmar where, he added, nine other political prisoners remain behind bars.

Today’s prisoner release comes after Myanmar’s Minister of Industry Soe Thane said the government was considering an amnesty for the remainder of the country’s hundreds of detained dissidents during a visit to Oslo just days after Suu Kyi made her long-overdue Nobel Peace Prize speech in the same city.

“We will call for all remaining political prisoners to be released,” Suu Kyi said at a press conference at her party headquarters in Yangon today.

The NLD says 330 political prisoners remained behind bars, while in May the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) put the number at 471 with hundreds more still unverified.

The US government has called on the new military-dominated government in Myanmar to release them all, one of the main conditions it says must be met before all sanctions are lifted after restrictions were eased following the April 1 election.

Thet Oo, a former political prisoner who is part of a new Yangon-based assistance program for detained dissidents, noted that the number released today was only a tiny fraction of the total still behind bars.

“If the government releases [dissidents] slowly like this, it may hinder the development of the country,” he said.

The government has in the past officially denied the existence of political prisoners stating they had violated state laws.

An official statement today in the state-run daily The New Light of Myanmar talked of “national reconciliation” and enabling “all [those released] to participate in the political process.”

“If they [the government] really want ‘reconciliation’ they should release all political prisoners unconditionally,” said Bo Gyi, joint secretary of AAPP. “We need to put more pressure on the government.”

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