Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Burma orders limited prisoner release


Tuesday, 03 January 2012 11:41 Mizzima News

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Burmese President Thein Sein announced a reduction in prisoners’ sentences on Monday to coincide with the country’s 64th Independence Day.

It is unclear how many political prisoners may be affected by the order, which was announced by MRTV, a state-run TV station, on Sunday.

Under the order, death row inmates’ sentences will be commuted to life imprisonment; those serving more than a 30-year sentence will be commuted to 30 years; those serving between a 20 and 30-year sentence will be commuted to 20 years; and those who are serving under a 20-year sentence will be commuted to one-fourth of their sentence respectively.

The order reportedly covers all prisoners who committed crimes before January 2, 2012.

Under the order, many prominent political prisoners who are serving long sentences would not be affected, such as 88-Generation student leaders Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Mya Aye, Jimmy and Nilar Thein; and ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo, who is serving a 93-year sentence.

The releases will start Tuesday. Under the new government, two amnesty releases were ordered on May 16 and October 12, 2011, affecting 14,758 and 6,359 prisoners respectively.

The amnesty order in October affected about 200 political prisoners. Estimates of the number of political prisoners in jail range from around 600 to more than 1,500.

Suu Kyi said in November said that there were still about 600 political prisoners, according to an NLD survey.

Last week, state-run media reported that the government-appointed National Human Rights Commission had appealed to Thein Sein to issue a general amnesty.

“This order cannot be called an amnesty. The limited nature ... indicates that the government has no intention to free the prisoners of conscience,” activist lawyer Aung Thein told The Associated Press.

A spokesman for pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party said the move falls short of achieving national reconciliation.

“Many political prisoners will remain in detention,” NLD party spokesman Han Thar Myint said. “It is not satisfactory.”

Western and European government officials have told Burmese leaders that sanctions are unlikely to be lifted as long as political prisoners remain in jail, and have called for a release of all political prisoners. Burmese officials refuse to acknowledge it has political prisoners, maintaining all prisoners have been convicted of violating existing laws.

Aung Khaing Min of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) said he was disappointed that the order had not differentiated between political and criminal inmates.

"It is not even an amnesty. It is very frustrating," he told Agence France Presse.

He said it was "really chaotic" that the announcement was not in line with statements from some officials, who have indicated recently that more prisoners of conscience would be freed.

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