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Burma prisoner amnesty – 13 Jan releases

We will be keeping you updated with breaking news as the day progresses. Updates in Rangoon time (+6.30 GMT). Confirmation hard to get, so note when labelled rumour

Final: Unprecedented events today in Burma, and the strongest signal yet of genuine reform? Let’s wait and see. The government released the country’s highest-profile political prisoners – Min Ko Naing, Ashin Gambira, Khun Tun Oo, Ko Ko Gyi, Khin Nyunt and many more – and the sceptics may be rethinking their stance somewhat. Suspicion still surrounds the government however (“They still have characteristics of a dictatorship,” said Gambira) but unlike past amnesties, few will be disappointed with this one. This is how it fits into the recent history of prisoner releases in Burma:

DATE                          TOTAL                  POL. PRIS           PERCENT

18 Nov 2004               3,937                            28                    0.7%
29 Nov 2004               5,311                            12                   0.2%
13 Dec 2004                5,070                           21                   0.4%
3 Jan 2005                   5,588                           26                   0.5%
6 Jul 2005                    334                             253                  75.7%
3 Jan 2007                   2,831                           50                   1.7%
23 Sept 2008               9,002                          10                    0.1%
20 Feb 2009                6,313                           24                    0.4%
17 Sept 2009               7,114                           28                   1.8%
16 May 2011                14,578                        55                    0.1%
13 Jan 2012                 651                             651                  100%
TOTAL                        60,729                       1258               2.0%

18.02pm: Filmed interview with former prime minister Khin Nyunt, who was released today. He speaks about the ceasefire signed yesterday between the government and KNU, and his newfound freedom.

17.40pm: Former army captain-turned-charity worker Nay Myo Zin also freed. He was jailed shortly after the new government came to power in March 2011 after intelligence found allegedly seditious documents on his laptop.

17.05pm: Twenty-three released from Mandalay prison: four National League for Democracy members, four activists from the September 2007 uprising, nine border security officials and six monks.

From Kyaukphyu prison, 10 prisoners of conscience and three former military intelligence (Weekly Eleven).

16.40pm: Filmed interivew with ethnic Shan leader Khun Tun Oo, who was released from Putao prison near the Chinese border today.

16.30pm: Released student leader Mya Aye “will arrive in Rangoon 5.30pm local time. He says campaigning must continue for all political prisoners to be released.” — Burma Campaign UK

16.05pm: Jailed Rohingya MP Kyaw Min, who was election in the 1990 polls, has been released along with his family. A volunteer with Burma Campaign UK spoke to him this morning: “U Kyaw Min thanked those around the world who have campaigned for the release of political prisoners. He says he is in good health.”

Also freed is Myint Hlaing, who helped DVB reporter Hla Hla Win on various assignments and was arrested alongside her in 2009.

15.50pm: Monk Ashin Gambira tells DVB of his experiences in prison:

“It was very bad in the beginning. I was kept in solitary confinement when I arrived in Insein prison [in 2008], then also in Mandalay prison. I was beaten up and then put in solitary confinement in Khamtee prison. I was also in solitary confinement for the first month I arrived in Kalay Prison. And then I was transferred to Myaungmya Prison on December 16 and now I’m out. The conditions in the prisons initially was very bad – there was no sufficient medical supply and no doctor.”

“I think [Burma] has still a long way to go. Although they are releasing prisoners now, they still have the characteristics of a dictatorship. What kind of democracy is this? They had to wait until today to release us.”

15.34pm: Tally of 591 prisoners of conscience released ties with NLD’s prisoner list released late last year. One wonders what has/will happen to the 1,000-odd counted by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma.

NB: of the 11 ‘political prisoners’ jailed in Taunggyi prison, one, Shwe Htoo, still remains behind bars, having been convicted on explosives charges, implying the NLD do not count those who have committed – or intended to commit – acts of violence as prisoners of conscience’.

14.49pm: Prominent student activist Ko Ko Gyi, who was jailed alongside Min Ko Naing, is free and on a plane bound for Rangoon, where he is expected to arrive shortly.  More details soon…

14.45pm: Of 651 prisoners released today, 591 are “prisoners of conscience” – the remaining 60 are former military intelligence officials and customs officials, Weekly Eleven says. Important distinction between ‘political prisoners’ and ‘prisoners of conscience’ used by government officials.

14.24pm: Leader of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) group, Kyaw Ko Ko, who was sentenced in 2009, is released from prison today. He told DVB that no conditions were placed on his release.

14.05pm: Thant Zin Aung, a freelance photojournalist arrested while boarding a flight to Thailand in 2008 after intelligence found a video on him showing the destruction caused by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, is among seven political prisoners released from Hpa-an jail in Karen state.

14.00pm: Another group of political prisoners released, this time from Kale jail in Sagaing division: Sai Nyunt Lwin [Shan Nationalities League for Democracy], Myo Naing Aung, Tin Yu, Kyaw Aung, Kyaw Kyaw, Soe Yazar Phyu, Wei Phyo, Min Min Htun, Naing Linn, Htay Aung and Nay Linn Aun.

13.50pm: The Irrawaddy quotes Khin Nyunt praising Aung San Suu Kyi: “I welcome Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts. If she is in the Hluttaw [Parliament], it will be better than it is now because she is brave and outspoken.”

13.40pm: DVB reporter Win Maw has been released from Kyaukphyu prison in Arakan state. He becomes the last of the named DVB reporters to be freed, although several more whose names were kept anonymous so far remain in prison. More on Win Maw here.

13.25pm: We’ve got confirmed names of 87 political prisoners released so far today, but that doesn’t include the 82 released from Insein prison, so number so far around 172. The count continues…

13.00pm: Grandchildren of Burma’s first dictator Ne Win among the 82 political prisoners released so far from Insein prison in Rangoon.  Others include members of the Karen National Union, activist group Generation Wave, NLD members, monks arrested in 2007 and former military intelligence officials, says The Voice.

12.53pm: Former PM Khin Nyunt says he will cease political activities and concentrate only on social and religious work, according to economist Khin Maung Nyo who met with him this morning.

12.33pm: Khin Nyunt tells crowds he is “in good health”.

“I’m happy and so my is family. But my men still remain in detention and some of them deserve to be free. It would be the best if everyone is released and could reunit with their families.

“I feel that it’s a bit self-centered that only they are being released like this. I wish everyone could be released and hope that they will be at one point since the current government is taking one step after another.”

Former prime minister Khin Nyunt seen shortly
after his release today (DVB)

12.15pm: News just in – DVB reporter Hla Hla Win has been released from Kathar prison in Sagaing prison. She was serving a 27-year prison sentence after being caught with video interviews of monks criticising the former junta’s crackdown on protesters in September 2007. More about her here.

Four DVB reporters have so far been released from prison today. Chief Editor Aye Chan Naing said:  “I am very happy for the release of some of DVB’s journalists.  I hope all our journalists will be free today.”

11.53am: Quote from released Shan leader Khun Tun Oo: “Firstly I would like to say it is important to free those who remain [in detention]. It would be best if there’s no one left in the prisons.

“I feel no emotion at all to be released because I wasn’t supposed to be arrested in the first place. I didn’t commit any of the crimes they accused me of – there was no national treason. I have wasted seven years of my life for something I didn’t do and there’s nothing to be happy about now.”

11.45am: Journalist Zaw Thet Htwe is among those released from Taunggyi prison, according to his wife. Kyaw Kyaw Htwe (aka Marky) released from Insein Prison, according to The Voice.

11.40am: Shan ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo, one of Burma’s most famous political prisoners, released from Putao prison in northernmost Burma close to the China border. He was serving a 93-year sentence on charges of sedition and planning to overthrow the former junta.

11.35am: From Sittwe prison in Arakan state, Weekly Eleven reports the following eight political prisoners have been freed – Dr Thet Lwin, Than Tin (aka Ko Gyi Than), Pyi Phyo Hlaing, Aung Aung Kyaw, Zeyar Oo, Payit, Kyaw Zin Win and Dawpon Nay Nay.

11.30am: Prominent blogger Nay Phone Latt among those released from Hpa-an prison in Karen state. He was serving a 20-year sentence. Also freed from Hpa-an: Nyi Pu (1990 People’s Parliament Rep), Nanda Sitt Aung, Thant Zin Aung (jailed alongside Zarganar), Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Pyi Phyo Aung and Nyan Linn, according to The Voice.

11.21am: Two more activists from the 88 Generation Students’ Group, Panatee Htun and Nilar Thein (f), released today.

11.15am: IMPORTANT: Today’s amnesty announced under Act 401(1) – “When any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offence, the President of the Union may at any time, without conditions or upon any conditions which the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced” (our italics).

Past amnesties have been done under Article 204(b) of the constitution: “The power to grant amnesty in accord with the recommendation of the National Defence and Security Council”.

So it seems today’s releases have not been done with full consent of the powerful National Defence and Security Council, and that some may only be suspensions. We’ll try to find more on this…

11.08am: Sage words from the 21-year-old DVB reporter Sithu Zeya, who was released today:

“As for the president, I think he’s pretty decent as he is [enacting reforms] under a lot of pressure. But also it depends a lot on the men behind him – just one decent person won’t make the change happen. We need all-inclusive cooperation from both sides to build a democratic system.”

11.06am: The following political prisoners have been released from Buthidaung prison in Arakan state, according to Weekly Eleven:

Sithu Maung, Thant Zin Myo, Kyaw Min, Htun Nyo, Htay Kywe, Aung Zaw oo, Pyay Kyaw, Wunna Pantha, Kyaw Win San and Maung Maung Latt.

11.03am: NLD spokesperson says amnesty a “positive sign. We welcome the release. Some (dissidents) are on their way home already,” AFP quotes.

10.56am: 12 political prisoners released from Mingyan prison, including female activist Htet Htet Aung.

10.48am: The Voice journal reports than former Burmese prime minister Khin Nyunt has been released from house arrest, along with his son. He was detained in 2004 after falling foul of former junta chief Than Shwe.

1044am: Freed DVB reporter Sithu Zeya says conditions attached to his release – if he commits any crime in the future he will be forced to serve his full 18-year sentence.  “It’s like we are being freed with leashes still attached to our necks. So I’m happy but with a leash still on my neck.”

Not clear if this ruling applies to all political prisoners released today.

10.42am: Hla Htwe (monk Vilasakka), Lah Yang Kywe, Ko Ko Naing, D Nyein Linn and Nobel Aye (f) freed from Monywa prison, according to Weekly Eleven magazine.

10.40am: Ngwe Soe Linn’s release brings to three the number of DVB reporters freed today. More on Ngwe Soe Linnhere.

10.39am: The following political prisoners released from Lashio prison, according to Weekly Eleven – Min Zeya, Min Han, Zarni Aung, Naing Oo (monk Pyinya Wunthua), Myint Naing, Aung Than Myint (Maggin monastery abbot Einraka), Ngwe Soe Linn, Min Htun, Myat Linn Htut, Honey Oo (f).

10.35am: 11 political prisoners, plus former military intelligence officials under Khin Nyunt, released from Taungoo prisons.

10.30am: The Voice magazine says Min Ko Naing was released at 10am (Rangoon time) today, along with 26 other political prisoners from Thayet.

10.25am: Confirmed that 88 Generation activists Zaw Htwe, Jimmy and Mya Aye are among those release from Taunggyi prison, according to Zaw Htwe’s wife. Still not clear if Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi are free, although we got a tip-off that Min Ko Naing’s family is en route to meet him.

10.20am: Comedian Zarganar writes on Facebook that jailed monk U Gambira, who had been severely tortured in prison, has been released.

10.16am: Rumours that leading 88 Generation activists, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, will be released. Reuters quoteed from an official at Thayet prison saying Min Ko Naing will walk.

10.10am: Second DVB reporter U Zeya, father of Sithu Zeya, has already been released, according to reports from inside Burma. More details soon

09.50am: The 21-year-old DVB reporter Sithu Zeya was among the first political prisoners to be released today. He was given an 18-year jail term for videoing the aftermath of the April 2010 grenade attacks in Rangoon. Sithu Zeya had been forced to reveal under torture that his father was also a DVB journalist.

Sithu today walked from Henzada prison and will be reunited with his family.


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