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President Thein Sein today announced another mass amnesty with the release of 514 prisoners, including an undisclosed number of foreigners, a week before he is set to travel to the US.
The president’s website described the move as an effort to ‘bring tranquillity and perpetual peace’ to the country’ and to maintain ‘friendship with neighbouring countries’.
The move comes on the same day as Human Rights Watch (HRW) slated the government for its failure to release all remaining political prisoners and imposing restrictions on those who have been freed.
“Obviously it’s welcome that they’re releasing more people, but we don’t know yet who’s on the list,” HRW’s deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told DVB. “The question that’s still up in the air is who’s on the government list, what are the other government lists and how at the end of the day are they going to get these lists to work together?”
Robertson says the move is likely intended to strengthen the president’s political capital before travelling to the US next week, where he is scheduled to attend the UN General Assembly in New York.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)’s Secretary Tate Naing, there are 396 political prisoners incarcerated in Burma, of which 146 were arrested this year.
“There were many people arrested in Arakan state as well without proper explanation on what grounds the arrests were made,” said Tate Naing. “Having these people still behind bars indicates that reforms in the country are moving slowly.”
This is the fourth amnesty instituted by the president since taking the reigns of the nominally civil government more than a year ago.
According to Robertson, former political prisoners often face discrimination at the hands of the government.
“There seems to be discrimination against past political prisoners who’ve been released – on issues of getting passports and access to education, where they’re not being allowed to return to university for student activists,” said Robertson. “The government needs to look into that too. Why is the government continuing to deny dozens of political prisoners their passports once they’re released?”
According to a report published by the Associated Press this weekend, 88 Generation Students’ leader Min Ko Naing cancelled his trip to the US this week in a show of solidarity with the dozens of democracy activists who have been denied passports by the Burmese government since being released from prison.
-Hanna Hindstrom and Maung Too provided additional reporting.