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The committee commissioned to review the status of prisoners will begin compiling a list of inmates who qualify as political prisoners to submit to President Thein Sein.
Following an announcement earlier this month in the state press, the government is now in the process of reviewing the status of select inmates who may be released if they qualify as political prisoners.
The committee led by President’s Office Minister Soe Thane held its first meeting on 23 February, where they met with advocacy organisations to discuss the criteria that will be used to evaluate prisoners.
“[Soe Thane] said the [committee] only has mandate to verify them but has no power to release them – this lies solely with the government,” said Nyo Tun of Former Political Prisoners League. “He asserted that there shouldn’t be any political prisoners during the national reformation period.”
Exile-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, Rangoon’s Former Political Prisoners League, the National Human Rights Commission, and representatives from political parties attended the meeting over the weekend.
According, to Nyo Tun, the term ‘political prisoners’ generally applies to anyone imprisoned in connection with political activities; however, no precise definition has been specified for the current process.
“The minister pointed out that the four groups, including ours, have more insight into who was detained for political activities and that the committee would help verify them before presenting the names to the president,” said Nyo Tun
“The [committee] will call another meeting in a month to discuss the definition of ‘political prisoners’ and to verify names [of political prisoners] based on lists by several groups; including the [Former Political Prisoners League], the NLD, the AAPP-B and the 88 Generation Students.”
After the final list is submitted to the president, it will be scrutinised by concerned government departments before plans are formulated to release the applicable detainees.
According to AAPP-B, there are still 222 political prisoners in Burma.
However this figure does not take into consideration individuals who were incarcerated in Kachin state in the past year for violating the draconian Unlawful Association Act or residents who were arbitrarily arrested in Arakan state during the two episodes of communal violence last year.
Since taking power, Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government has sporadically released political prisoners.
However, analysts have criticised the government’s continued use of amnesties as bargaining chips with the international community, most famously with the release of prisoners that coincided with President Obama’s trip to Rangoon in November.