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Myanmar frees more political prisoners

Release coincides with president's US visit

John Zaw, Mandalay

May 17, 2013

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Myanmar released more than 20 political prisoners on Friday just hours ahead of President Thein Sein’s departure for a state visit to the United States, according to a government official.

Ye Aung, a member of the government’s political prisoners scrutiny committee and a former political prisoner, welcomed the amnesty but said all prisoners of conscience needed to be freed.

“To show genuineness and transparency of the government’s political reforms, they must release all remaining political prisoners unconditionally and help rehabilitate them psychologically, find them employment and offer financial support,” Ye Aung said.

He added that there were at least 200 more political prisoners still in jail.

Kan Min Thar, 24, who was released from Yangon’s Insein prison, said he was glad to be free but hoped the remaining prisoners would be released as well.

“The government released us today just two days before Thein Sein’s visit to the United States, since the issue of remaining political prisoners is likely to be raised by the international media,” said Kan Min Thar, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2011 under the unlawful association law.

He added that prisoners released today were not required to sign any documents requiring them to refrain from political activities or making any other concessions.

State media did not announce the prisoner release but Hmuu Zaw, a spokesman for the president’s office, said on a Twitter post on Friday that the amnesty showed Thein Sein’s efforts to have an “inclusive political process,” according to an AFP report.

Thet Oo, a member of the Yangon-based Assistance for Political Prisoners, said the group has confirmed the release of 18 political prisoners so far – among them, some who were sentenced to sentences of 65 years or longer.

Nay Myo Zin, a former military captain and former political prisoner who was previously released on amnesty but re-arrested last week, was also released on Friday from Maubin prison, Thet Oo said.

The government, which long denied the existence of political prisoners, has released hundreds of prisoners since Thein Sein became president in 2011.

In February the government appointed a 16-member committee to review all cases of individuals classified by opposition and advocacy groups as political prisoners.

Some 183 political prisoners remain behind bars, according to data compiled on May 11 by the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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