Six prisoners freed as amnesty draws near

Burma will release hundreds of prisoners “within a few days”, a senior government official told Norwegian media last week, shortly after a number of activists involved in the September 2007 uprising were allowed to walk free.

In a rare face-to-face interview, Shwe Mann, speaker of the lower house, told reporters from NRK on Saturday that the mooted amnesty would take place imminently, although did not give details on who would be included. On the same day, Norway’s deputy foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, met with Aung San Suu Kyi at her house in Rangoon.

Rumours have been circulating for weeks that the government would release a number of high-profile political prisoners, including comedian Zarganar, who is serving a 35 year sentence.

Norwegian deputy foreign minister Espen Barth Eide met with Aung San Suu
Kyi on Saturday (DVB)

On Friday six people handed sentences of five years each for their role in the 2007 protests were released, among them two monks. All had been jailed on explosives charges.

A source close to Insein prison in Rangoontold DVB that the six reported that prison officials had been taking photos of other inmates, possibly in lieu of their release. One inmate, Bodaw Khin Win from Shan state, “was told by prison officials to start packing his bag,” the source said.

He added that the amnesty may take place prior to President Thein Sein’s looming trip to India this week.

San Toe, who was among those released on Friday, said: “Although we have been released, we are sorry for those who remain inside [prison]. We would like the government to release them immediately – it would be more convenient if the amnesty … would happen soon.”

Burma currently holds nearly 2000 political prisoners, among whom are more than 220 monks.

Although there have been signs of reform since the new government came to power, the release of political prisoners remains the ultimate test of how far it will push its pledged transition to democratic rule.

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