Release of political prisoners discussed in Rangoon

Release of political prisoners discussed in Rangoon

The Burmese government held a meeting with leaders from different political parties on Sunday to discuss plans to release all remaining political prisoners in Burma, state media reports.

President’s office ministers Aung Min and Soe Thane raised the matter at a meeting with dozens of parliamentarians in Rangoon, according to the New Light of Myanmar.

“The government is making strenuous efforts for [the] release of the remaining political prisoners in cooperation with political parties and civil society organisations,” said the paper.

A follow-up meeting is reportedly scheduled for December.

It follows a pledge made by President Thein Sein in July that all political prisoners would be freed by the end of the year.

Thein Sein, who took the reins of a nominally-civilian government in 2011, has already released hundreds of political prisoners – many of whom were arbitrarily arrested for their pro-democracy activities during junta rule.

In February, the government formed a multi-stakeholder committee tasked with identifying and releasing all remaining political prisoners in Burma, but its members have complained that the process lacks transparency and fairness.

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All prisoners are currently being released on “conditions” – meaning that if they are deemed to have violated any part of their parole they could be sent back to jail.

Thein Sein has also insisted that only “genuine” prisoners may be considered for release, creating difficulties for many ethnic minority rebels allegedly prosecuted for their role in violent or “terrorist” activities.

“The prisoners must be real political prisoners. Then, we will present the list of them to the president,” reportedly said Soe Thane at Sunday’s meeting.

It follows media reports that the government is looking to release a fresh set of inmates in the coming weeks.

“The president has said several times that there wouldn’t be any political prisoners in the country by the end of this year, so we can expect their release any time,” said Nyan Win, opposition party member, according to The Irrawaddy last week.

Over 70 inmates were released in July, followed by another 53 in October – mostly members from ethnic armed groups, with which the government is seeking to secure a nationwide ceasefire deal.

But some 150 political prisoners are estimated to remain behind bars in Burma, according to activists. Human rights groups also warn that dozens of new prisoners of conscience – including land rights activists – continue to be incarcerated despite the government’s talk of reform.

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