By Zin Linn
Burmese people are highly concerned about the issue of releasing political prisoners in Burma. President Thein Sein’s remark in Bali was giving serious cause for concern. Speaking Burmese journalists in Bali, Thein Sein said that he did not agree with the assessment that Burma has been holding several political prisoners, repeating previous military junta’s usual complaint that Burma only lockups prisoners who violated relevant laws.
In his remarks reported by Radio Free Asia Burmese service and Democratic Voice of Burma, Thein Sein said, “We punished the prisoners since they violated the law. In our prisons, there are lots of people due to breaking the law. So if we give favor some of them by using the term ‘prisoner of conscience’, then it will be unfair for the other inmates. “
The authorities transferred some important political prisoners in mid-November. Well-known student leader Min Ko Naing was transferred from a far-off prison in Shan State to notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon. But next day, he was transferred to Thayet Prison which is 350 km north of his place of origin Rangoon. Moreover, Buddhist monk U Gambira was transferred from Kale Prison in northern Burma to Myaungmya Prison in the Irrawaddy Delta and a prominent female prisoner of conscience Nilar Thein was transferred from Thayet Prison to Thayarwaddy Prison in Pegu Division. Leader of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) Khun Htun Oo has been transferred from Putao prison in Kachin State to Taung-ngu’s prison in middle Burma.
The transfers carried out after the government-appointed Human Rights Commission appealed President Thein Sein to grant official pardon to Burma’s lingering prisoners of conscience. The appeal was made public in an open letter published in state-run newspapers on 12 November.
However, the letter also urged the president that if he thought some prisoners were not appropriate to be released for reasons of keeping peace and stability, he should allow them transferring to prisons close to their families. Consequently, there are now assumptions that prisoners like Min Ko Naing and Khun Tun Ooo who have now been transferred from remote prisons to prisons closer to their hometown will not be released anytime soon.
Most people think that after ASEAN agreed its chair to Burma in 2014, President Thein Sein seems breaking his promise to release all political prisoners right away.
In addition, the momentum of civil war in Kachin State has been increasing hysterically. People throughout the country are against this war since numerous casualties from both sides were citizens of Burma. As a result, many people do not have trust in Thein Sein government as a sincere administration that guaranteed good governance.
In such a moment, Burma’s opposition party the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, submitted its application to Union Election Commission Friday to reregister to contest in forthcoming by-election. Twenty-one senior members as party founders including Suu Kyi, Tin Oo and Win Tin made the submission in the capital, Naypyitaw, a spokesman for the NLD said.
Although the international community has hailed the NLD’s decision as an essential gesture of rapprochement between the government and the opposition party, some anti-military dissidents are reluctant to support the NLD’s risking political stance.
NLD’s application to return to the political tussle came days before the arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, scheduled to visit Burma next week. Clinton travels to Burma from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, during which she will be meeting top officials of the Burmese government and opposition leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy.
Meanwhile, according to Democratic Voice of Burma, Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann welcomed the NLD’s return to parliament politics, after it was dissolved earlier this year for boycotting the 2010 elections. As said by a journalist, Shwe Mann said he welcomes her on behalf of the People’s Parliament if she was planning to compete for it.
Nevertheless, the lower house speaker said today in a press briefing in Naypyidaw that three months’ notice needed to be given before the polls are held. Since no notice has yet been made, would-be candidates can guess there will be no by-elections for at least three months.
The uncertainty of political prisoners’ release and the inattention of ethnic war in Kachin State provide evidence that current government is still dragging its feet for genuine change. For that reason, some people are worrying for the future of the NLD led by charismatic leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has decided to enter parliament so as to work together with the military-dominated Thein Sein government.
However, one good thing is that majority of people believe in Suu Kyi’s honesty and sacrifice and they also have a clear choice of supporting the NLD as people’s party. So, people consider the upcoming by-elections as the most important point for entering into a new era.