ISSN 2330-717X

Burma: Amnesty Disappoints Opposition, Families


By John Zaw

Opposition party members and relatives of political prisoners this week said they were disappointed by the government’s amnesty of only a handful of prisoners of conscience during the country’s Independence Day celebrations.

The Myanmar government regularly commutes prison sentences or frees prisoners under a general amnesty each year on Independence Day, commemorated on January 4.

Xinhua reported today that nearly 7,000 prisoners in Myanmar were released this year, while 33 death row inmates had their sentences commuted to life in prison, the report said, citing the state-run daily newspaper New Light of Myanmar.

Naing Naing, a senior official with the National League for Democracy, told Reuters this week that only 12 of the prisoners released were prisoners of conscience.

Phone Myint Zaw, 43, an NLD party member, said he and other members had hoped the government would issue a broader amnesty following the release in October last year of high-profile political prisoners including Zarganar, Su Su Nway and Zaw Htet Ko Ko.

“I want to see all prisoners of conscience released but I can’t expect my dream to be realized, as the president can’t even solve the fighting in the ethnic areas,” he said, referring to a letter issued last month by the president calling for an end to hostilities in Kachin state.

Fighting between government and ethnic armies erupted in June, bringing an end to a 17-year-old ceasefire agreement.

Phone Myint Zaw added that he feared a difference of opinion among the country’s former military rulers over the genuineness and extent of democratic reforms.

“It’s difficult to build trust in the new government, but we will measure this by their actions,” he said.

Daw Thazin May, 50, said she and her daughter traveled to Oo Bo prison in Mandalay where her husband, an NLD party member, is serving a 22-year sentence. He was not among those released.

“I will never give up my hope, and I am determined to fight for the truth,” she said yesterday.

She added that she continues to pray for her country and its leaders, and believed that eventually “love will win out over revenge,” despite years of suffering endured by her family.

U Myat Ko, a political analyst, said this week’s third prisoner amnesty, which also saw the reduction of various prison sentences, was disappointing but that short-term goals were not as important as long-term reform.

“We can’t expect too much change, and the military still has power, so the president alone can’t carry out what the people expect,” he said yesterday.

An estimated 1,500 political prisoners remain behind bars in Myanmar.

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