Another prisoner release in Burma is “drawing near” and will include detainees “who are keen on carrying out the welfare of the country”, parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann has said in a veiled indication that political prisoners will be among those freed.
The comments appeared in the domestic Weekly Eleven news journal, and quoted a speech Shwe Mann made on Friday last week to mark the opening of a parliamentary legal affairs office in Rangoon.
He said that he was unable to state the exact date of the amnesty. “While government officials insist there are only criminals in the prisons, the opponents said their colleagues remain in the jails as political prisoners.
“In this regard, I suggested not to dispute this term, and to release those who are keen on carrying out the welfare of the country in order of precedence.”
The lower house speaker also claimed he had requested a list of those due to be released, and details about why they should walk.
In an interview with the exiled Mizzima news organisation last week, Burma’s deputy foreign minister, Maung Myint, said that he refuted the notion that the country holds some 1,700 prisoners on political charges.
“The position of our government is very clear. There are no political prisoners or prisoners of conscience in our country. A man may have his political belief or conscience but if he violates the existing laws in our country, he will be prosecuted in a trial court and will be given punishment. At that time, we see him as an ordinary prisoner”
President Thein Sein echoed this sentiment last month when he said that “doesn’t agree with” accusations of political prisoners.
“We punished them because they violated the law,” he said. “There are a lot of people in prison for breaking the law, so if we apply the term [‘prisoner of conscience’] to just one group, then it will be unfair on the others.”
Shwe Mann takes a less forthright stance, however, saying that the issue of political prisoners “is a controversial topic”. He said he had also suggested that the government differentiate “prisoners of conscience” and “political prisoners”. The term “prisoner of conscience” refers only to those prisoners held because of their beliefs, and precludes those who may have committed acts of violence or actively opposed the state.
The decision to release prisoners does not solely rest with the government, as demonstrated in mid November when a rumoured amnesty was delayed at the last minute following an intervention by the National Defence and Security Council, which Thein Sein heads but which includes powerful military figures.