By Zin Linn
Burma has been going ahead for a prompt conclusion to Western sanctions with a few remarkable changes after years of military ruling. The current Burmese government has surprised rights watchers with some pro-reform moves, including talk between President Thein Sein and key opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
On Friday, through an amnesty Burma released 302 political prisoners out of 651 in total, including several prominent student activists of 1988 generation.
Such an amnesty had been long demanded by the West democracies and the UN. It was hailed by the international community due to recognition of public opinion. As it is an important move, the United States said that it will consider reinstating full diplomatic ties.
Out of four times releasing of political prisoners, this time is more important along with a number of changes by the President. The home minister said that the government released 302 inmates considered political prisoners by the opposition in its latest amnesty on Friday.
The 651 prisoners were granted amnesty as fourth occasion on 13 January. Even though the quantity is smaller than previous times, it is said that people express their gratitude to the President for the latest release which included prominent figures – such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Khun Tun Oo and U Gambira, a Buddhist monk who led saffron revolution in 2007 etc.
Ex-premier and chief of military intelligence, Khin Nyunt was also released this time. Besides, a number of journalists who belong to the Democratic Voice of Burma who had been in opposition with the government were also freed.
But, some political analysts criticize the government of using the previous junta’s Section 401. The military regime uses Section 401 of the Criminal Procedure Code as the legal mechanism for those amnesties.
Article (1) of Section 401 grants the President the power to suspend a sentence, while article (3) gives power to cancel that suspension and order re-arrest of a person at any time without a warrant, requiring that he or she must serve the remainder of the original sentence. These powers lie with the executive and not the judiciary.
The former political prisoners are constantly under watch by Military Affairs Security, generally known as Military Intelligence and their informers. The ex-political-detainees often face harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest. They are deprived of education and employment opportunities.
So, many 1988-generation dissidents have been calling the government to get rid of the undemocratic ruling laws including Section 401. Although the political prisoners were released under president’s amnesty, they have to face threats by the undemocratic emergency security laws.
Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Jimmy, Htay Kywe and several 1988-generation student leaders have experienced of repeated detention without warrant for more than two to three times respectively in order to use them as bargaining chips. They have desperately spent their youthful times in prison for nearly two decades in total.
The previous junta’s 2008 Constitution is a barrier to democratic transition since it cements military ruling, differentiates ethnic nationalities and challenges human rights. It also prescribes general pardon to the former military officials. According to the article 445 of the 2008 constitution, no proceeding shall be instituted against any member of the previous military government in respect of any act done in execution of their respective duties.
Therefore, it is critically important to reach its conclusion to impunity for violations of human rights and crimes against humanity with appropriate action from the United Nations and the international community.
On the contrary, political prisoners are still under threat of the Section 401 due to their past participation in the country’s non-violent political progression.
After releasing the political prisoners, the current government must guarantee them that they will not be rearrested by using the Section 401. It looked like the political dissidents were held as hostages by the government to bargain for the Western sanctions.
If the government is adamantly holding these unfair laws, people may not believe that it will go along the non-reversible reform path. As a result, the Western democracy governments should not be too hurried to lift the sanctions.
The situation needs to watch carefully on Burma’s reform display to become a non-reversible one, including getting rid of repressive laws.