Government urged to release political prisoners
Supporters are calling for the release of 83 prisoners and the abandonment of prosecutions against a further 142 people.
THE announcement that hundreds of people accused of “political” crimes would no longer face prosecution has raised hopes that political prisoners still behind bars could be freed before the peace process gets under way at the end of this month. Activists have called for the release of about 83 prisoners and the abandonment of prosecutions directed at a further 142 people who face what they call political charges.
Ministry of Home Affairs permanent secretary U Tin Myint told parliament that 274 cases against 457 defendants had been abandoned during the government’s 100-day initiative. Speaking at an August 16 press conference, he said, “We took this action at the request of the president and the state counsellor. This represents a significant accomplishment on the part of the government, and has eased the concerns of political activists.”
U Tate Naing, secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the government should release the remaining political prisoners before the 21st-century Panglong Conference scheduled to begin on August 31. He said most of those still behind bars were relatives of ethnic armed group members who had been sentenced under the Unlawful Association Act.
“The Ministry of Home Affairs shouldn’t handle the political prisoner issue. The government needs to release the remaining political prisoners and should close the cases against political activists,” he said.
The AAPP today releases its monthly report for July, saying that the Unlawful Association Act continues to be a tool for the arrest, detention and sentencing of civilians accused of being part of unrecognised organisations and ethnic armed groups.
“This month, three Arakanese were convicted of alleged connection with the Arakan Army (AA) under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act, two of them to three years’ imprisonment with hard labour and the other to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour,” said the report.
According to the report, 53 political prisoners related to Arakan Army members were sentenced under the act, as well as 15 other prisoners related to members of the Restoration Council of Shan State, the Karen National Union, the Shan State Progressive Party and the Shan Ni Army.
U Tun Kyi, a member of the Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS), said yesterday that the former prisoners hoped to see a presidential amnesty declared before the peace conference in the spirit of national reconciliation. Such an act would further burnish the country’s reputation, he said.
“The political prisoners issue is at a deadlock. I think there is no agreement between the commander-inchief and the president on further releases. The National Defence and Security Council should take up the matter and reach agreement,” he said.
Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win, general secretary of the Karen National Union, called on the government to repeal the colonial-era act. “Everyone knows the law must be repealed,” he said.
In the last session of the Pyithu Hluttaw, lawmaker U Pe Than (ANP; Myebon) sought to establish a definition of the term “political prisoner”, a designation that at one time could be applied to many sitting MPs.
A student activist pours water on his fellow students after their release from Insein Prison in Yangon on April 17, after President U Htin Kyaw granted amnesty for 83 political prisoners.