Prisoners of conscience released but scores remain behind bars - Amnesty
The release of at least 11 prisoners of conscience in a mass prisoner amnesty in Myanmar on 30 July is a step in the right direction, but authorities must immediately clear the country’s jails of the scores of peaceful activists who still remain behind bars, Amnesty International said in a media release on 30 July.
The Myanmar authorities released 6,966 people as part of a Presidential prisoner amnesty. Among those freed are at least 11 men who Amnesty International has designated prisoners of conscience – including journalists, peaceful protesters and community leaders from the repressed Muslim Rohingya minority.
“We are delighted that these 11 men can now walk free and return to their families, even if nothing can make up for the ordeal they have had to go through. But the fact remains that none of them should have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnes- ty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“We have seen an alarming increase in arrests and harassment of peaceful activists in Myanmar in the past year, with an increasing number of prisoners of conscience languishing behind bars. Releases like the one today will have little long-term effect if the laws that allow the authorities to crackdown on human rights defenders, students, journalists, and government critics remain on the books.”
It is the first mass prisoner amnesty since October 2014, when thousands were released a few weeks ahead of Myanmar hosting two major international summits.
“Myanmar’s authorities have a track record of announcing prisoner amnesties, like the one today, at politically opportune times. The government must prove that this is more than an empty gesture to curry favour ahead of the November elections. The next step must be to release the scores of peaceful activists who still remain behind bars, and to drop charges against those facing imprisonment simply for peacefully exercising their human rights,” said Rupert Abbott.
Prisoners of conscience included in the prisoner amnesty included:
Kyaw Zaw Hein, Win Tin, Thura Aung, Yin Min Htun, and Kyaw Min Khaing, all media workers from the Bi Midday Sun newspaper, each sentenced to two years in prison after the paper published claims that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders had been elected as an interim government in July 2014.
Michaungkan community leader Sein Than, sentenced to two years in prison for participating in a series of peaceful protests in response to failures by the authorities to resolve his community’s land dispute.