Myanmar announces amnesty for 452 jail inmates in “goodwill gesture”
November 15, 2012
Myanmar has pardoned hundreds of prisoners under an amnesty that appears to be a goodwill gesture just days before a visit by US President Barack Obama.
The government ordered the release of 452 prison inmates on Thursday in a move criticised by pro-democracy activists for allegedly failing to grant freedom to many political detainees.
It was not immediately clear if any jailed dissidents were among those given amnesty, prompting rights groups to renew calls for officials to bring transparency to one of the world’s most opaque prison systems.
Myanmar has long insisted that all prisoners are criminals and release no official information on political detainees.
“This is extremely disappointing because we haven’t heard of any political prisoners being released. This is a shame,” said U Naing Naing of the Central Social Assistance Committee, which helps families of political prisoners.
Other groups that monitor political prisoners gave similar reports. Many political detainees are in remote areas where communications are difficult, so the extent of the release may not be known for several days.
State media said some of the prisoners to be released are foreigners who will be extradited, but gave no details.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based watchdog group, accused the government of using strategically timed prisoner releases to appease the international community.
“The government of Burma has said they are committed to releasing all political prisoners. So why haven’t they?” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director, said.
“This whole process is being drawn out unnecessarily to maximise the Burmese government’s leverage with the international community.”
The last release took place in September, a week before Thein Sein visited New York for the UN General Assembly.
Thein Sein’s government has spearheaded a major transition towards democracy, easing harsh media censorship, signing ceasefire deals with armed rebel groups, and opening the country more to Western investment.
But rights groups say Thein Sein has not yet consolidated the political and economic reforms. The military is still dominant and is commonly implicated in rights abuses.
Funny, you’d think they’d jail more political prisoners in anticipation of an American President’s visit, not release them.