By Zin Linn
The Burmese government’s appointed human rights body – Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) – has submitted an open letter to President Thein Sein today calling for the release political prisoners or their transfer to prisons close to their families.
The MNHRC ‘s chairman Win Mra has urged the president to liberate prisoners of conscience. The appeal comes as speculation mounts about a new amnesty covering some of the country’s estimated 18,000 political prisoners.
Burma’s state-owned newspapers have published an open letter from National Human Rights Commission chairman Win Mra, calling on President Thein Sein to grant amnesty “as a reflection of magnanimity,” or to transfer political prisoners in remote prisons to facilities with trouble-free access for their family members.
Family members of Burma prisoners wait outside Insein Prison in Yangon Oct. 12, 2011 following an announcement that more than 6,300 inmates would be released. Unfortunately, very few of those were political prisoners. Pic: AP.
A similar and first appeal letter was published on October 11 and the next day the government announced an amnesty of 6,359 prisoners, including over 200 political prisoners. On October 12, the President Thein Sein government released 6,359 prisoners under an amnesty for elderly, ailing and obedient prisoners.
On November 10, speaking in Honolulu ahead of a weekend Asia-Pacific summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States was ready to become a “partner” of Burma if it makes good on signs of reform in the long-isolated country.
“Many questions remain, including the government’s continuous locking up of political prisoners and whether reform will be sustained and extended to include peace and reconciliation in the ethnic minority areas,” Clinton said.
Earlier in November, two senior US officials—State Department human rights chief Michael Posner and special envoy for Burma Derek Mitchell—also toured Burma and said they had constructive meetings with Burmese government officials and military leaders. They said if there is proof of true reform, the US “will be partners in that effort,” though they noted that the lifting of key sanctions, including a law barring US support for international loans to Burma, would require action by the US Congress.
In the October amnesty, prominent political prisoners Gen. Hso Ten, Zarganar and Su Su Nway were released. However, many more prominent student leaders such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Min Zeya, Htay Kywe and ethnic leaders such as U Khun Tun Oo are still languishing in jail.
Although the Government released 6,359 prisoners last month, most of them were ordinary criminals. In addition, the government constantly refuses to recognize that there are nearly 2,000 political prisoners in its notorious prisons.
A major amnesty in the coming days would coincide with the start of an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on the island of Bali in Indonesia. It would make stronger Burma’s efforts to take over the rotating ASEAN chairmanship in 2014, two years earlier than timetabled. So, the release of political prisoners would be seen as a positive development favoring its ASEAN chair bid, which is likely to be decided at this forthcoming summit.
The MNHRC‘s chairman Win Mra’s plea plainly referred to political prisoners, although the term was not applied. The amnesty message coincided with a press conference of the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, celebrating the first anniversary of her liberation from house arrest.