By Min Lwin
Two batches of prisoners will be released in January and February, according to leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU) who spoke with a Burmese government minister this week.
The two releases would take place on 4 January and 12 February, railway minister Aung Min was quoted by the KNU’s David Htaw as saying. The two met earlier this week to thrash out plans for ceasefire negotiations between the KNU and Burmese army, who have been at war for more than six decades.
According to David Htaw, the minister reportedly said that “political prisoners” would be among those released. The government has consistently refused to admit that it holds detainees on political charges, instead referring to the country’s estimated political prisoners as “common criminals”.
“By [12 February], almost all political prisoners will be released, he told us,” said David Htaw.
The number of political prisoners behind bars has become a matter of contention since the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in October released a list of around 600 jailed activists, journalists, lawyers and so on. The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP) however puts the figure at 1,546.
The Burmese comedian Zarganar, who was released in the October amnesty, also drew up a list of around 600 political prisoners during a visit to jails shortly after his release.
No detail has been given on the reasons for the discrepancy, although it may stem from the fact that a number of political prisoners have been charged in relation to violent acts. Nay Zin Latt, a senior advisor to Burmese President Thein Sein, said the conflicting figures “could arise from differences in ideology”.
Tate Naing, joint secretary of AAPP, said he thought the political prisoners would be released in the second amnesty in February. “As there has never been a declaration of what constitute a political prisoner, we are watching what kind of people will be released and how many will be released.”