Activists demand action on Myanmar’s prisoner vow

AFP, YANGON, Myanmar

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 - Page 1

Activists yesterday urged Burmese President Thein Sein to “turn his words into action” after the former general promised to free all political prisoners by the end of the year.

“I guarantee to you that by the end of this year, there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar,” Thein Sein said on Monday during a visit to London.

However, pro-democracy campaigners have accused the former junta leader of using a series of headline-grabbing amnesties to secure foreign aid and investment.

“President Thein Sein is very good at PR, but he needs to turn his words into action,” said Bo Kyi of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), who estimates there are still more than 150 political prisoners behind bars.

He said it would be difficult for the government to keep its promise to release all political detainees because dozens more activists are facing trial, including people arrested for protesting without permission.

“For the time being, rule of law is very weak. There are still arbitrary arrests and there is no fair trial,” Bo Kyi said.

The military junta that ruled for decades until 2011 had long denied the existence of political prisoners.

However, hundreds of dissidents have been freed since Thein Sein took power in March 2011.

In November last year, he announced a review of all “politically concerned” cases.

The opposition party of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy, estimates that about 100 political prisoners continue to languish in Myanmar’s prisons, including several of its own members.

“We welcome what the president said. We also want them all to be freed,” party spokesman Nyan Win said.

Thein Sein has been praised for reforms, including welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party into parliament.