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Forty-one political prisoners were released from various prisons across Burma on Wednesday in the latest of a series of amnesties by President Thein Sein’s government, according to presidential spokesman Ye Htut.
A list of those released, compiled by the Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS), accounts for 41 prisoners from at least nine jails. The government has yet to disclose the names and locations of all those pardoned.
The FPPS also claims that nearly all of the prisoners included in the amnesty were jailed under Article 18, Burma’s contentious Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law, for participation in unauthourised demonstrations. The law requires prior approval for any public gathering of more than five people.
“Among the released prisoners, those jailed under Article 18 include Generation Wave’s Moe Thway, D Nyein Linn of All-Burma Federation of Student Unions, and labour activist Myint Soe, who was detained in Thaton prison [in Mon state],” said Thet Oo of the FPPS.
Several of the prisoners, including Moe Thway and D Nyein Linn, were within ten days of completing their full prison terms at the time of the president’s pardon.
“I don’t feel significantly delighted to be released now – also because my term is over in the coming week anyway – they are only doing this to impress international governments,” said D Nyein Linn, who spoke with DVB just after his release.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma maintains a running list of all prisoners of conscience in the country’s jails. The list currently has 183 names on it, though it has not been updated since May 2013. Another 56 prisoners were released in an amnesty in October.
Today’s amnesty was notably administered by utilising Section 204 (a) of the constitution, which gives the president the power to grant amnesty. Previous reprieves were carried out under Article 401 of Burma’s penal code, highly criticised as offering only conditional freedom; those released under this provision are still subject to re-imprisonment.
President Thein Sein has vowed to clear the nation’s jails of all political prisoners by the end of 2013. The government-backed Committee to Verify Remaining Political Prisoners, established earlier this year to help meet the goal, is tipped to be abolished upon the release of all remaining identified political dissidents.
But as serial amnesties whittle down the list created by the committee, several human rights groups have argued that while many are being released, new prisoners of conscience are being created daily by the contentious legislation. Last week alone, DVB reported at least eight convictions for violations of Article 18, including two activists who were each sentenced to seven months in prison for participating in a “peace walk” from Rangoon to Laiza in Burma’s northern Kachin state.