Re­lease wel­comed, but many still lan­guish with­out charge in jail

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

On Jan­uary 22, the govern­ment re­leased 52 political pris­on­ers as part of a political pris­oner amnesty that, ac­cord­ing to Pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son Zaw Htay, was to mark the World Bud­dhist Peace Con­fer­ence which was be­ing hosted in north-western Myan­mar. The 52 political pris­on­ers re­leased from five pris­ons were part of the 102 to­tal pris­on­ers re­leased by the govern­ment.

While the amnesty was com­mend­able, and in­cluded the re­lease of Philip Black­wood, a New Zealand na­tional sen­tenced to 30 months in prison for “in­sult­ing re­li­gion”, the fact re­mains that, ac­cord­ing to a pris­oner’s rights or­gan­i­sa­tion, 408 oth­ers are cur­rently await­ing trial for political ac­tions. The or­gan­i­sa­tion notes that of par­tic­u­lar con­cern are the stu­dents and sup­port­ers who have been await­ing trial in de­ten­tion since last March when they were ar­rested for their in­volve­ment in protests con­cern­ing the Na­tional Education Bill.

Some­what iron­i­cally, as those 52 political pris­on­ers were be­ing re­leased, the Govern­ment ar­rested and de­tained a prom­i­nent leader of the Saf­fron Rev­o­lu­tion, U Gam­bira (aka) Nyi Nyi Lwin, and sen­tenced peace ac­tivist Pa­trick Khum Jaa Lee to six months im­pris­on­ment for al­legedly de­fam­ing the mil­i­tary on Face­book in what Amnesty In­ter­na­tional termed “a stark re­minder of how preva­lent re­pres­sion still is in the coun­try.”

Amnesty also noted that “It’s heart­en­ing that the men and women re­leased to­day can go back to their lives and fam­i­lies, but the fact is none of them should have been charged in the first place. If Pres­i­dent Thein Sein is se­ri­ous about leav­ing a pos­i­tive legacy, he must clear the coun­try’s jails of all pris­on­ers of con­science once and for all.”

There is lit­tle doubt that the amnesty was an im­por­tant ges­ture and it was wel­comed by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. A Euro­pean Union state­ment noted that the Govern­ment’s de­ci­sions “. . . con­sti­tute note­wor­thy fur­ther steps in the coun­try’s his­toric tran­si­tion to democ­racy.’

How­ever it also stated “. . . We en­cour­age the Govern­ment to un­con­di­tion­ally re­lease all re­main­ing political pris­on­ers, to take steps to pre­vent new un­war­ranted ar­rests.”

Most re­cently fears have been raised about the health of a num­ber of stu­dents be­ing held await­ing trial on the Education Bill charges. Fam­i­lies of the de­tained stu­dents have raised fears over their de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health, ac­cus­ing au­thor­i­ties of fail­ing to pro­vide ad­e­quate care dur­ing months of in­car­cer­a­tion. In at least one case, the father of 28-year-old Honey Oo, said au­thor­i­ties had dithered for months as he begged them to al­low hos­pi­tal treat­ment for his daugh­ter.

If the Thein Sein Govern­ment wants to leave an en­dur­ing legacy then he has to free those re­main­ing political pris­on­ers and stu­dent ac­tivists now and en­sure no more ar­rests are made on ques­tion­able charges. If not, his­tory will en­sure his Govern­ment’s rep­u­ta­tion will al­ways be tar­nished.

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