Mon, Feb 23, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Dissidents, monks freed in amnesty

PRISON CLEARANCE A Thailand-based rights group said a total of 19 political prisoners were scheduled to be freed. Three were among those released on Saturday

AGENCIES , YANGON, MYANMAR

Family members wait outside the Insein Central Jail in Yangon, Myanmar, yesterday, after the government announced an amnesty for thousands of prisoners.

PHOTO: EPA

Several monks and three members of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party were among the more than 6,300 prisoners released by Myanmar’s junta as part of a government amnesty, a party spokesman and a rights group said yesterday.

Among those freed from prisons around the country beginning on Saturday was Zaw Myint Maung, a lawmaker who was serving a 20-year sentence and had been in prison since 1991, National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman Nyan Win said.

Two other NLD township committee leaders — Pe Thein and Thet Wai — also were released.

The three were among 19 political prisoners scheduled to be released, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand-based rights group whose information has proven accurate in the past. Most of the 16 remaining prisoners were monks detained in 2003 after rejecting a donation to their monastery from former junta member General Khin Nyunt.

“This is just for show,” NLD secretary Tate Naing said. “This group does not include any policy makers or other key players.”

Nyan Win said he was expecting to hear yesterday about more NLD members freed.

State radio and TV announced on Friday that 6,313 prisoners were released in recognition of their good conduct and so they would be able to participate in a general election planned for next year. The announcement came after UN human rights rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana ended a five-day visit during which he called for the progressive release of “prisoners of conscience.”

In recent months, courts have sentenced more than 100 dissidents, including some of the country’s most prominent activists, to prison terms that would keep them incarcerated well past the 2010 polls. The junta says the vote will restore democracy, but critics say it will be a sham to keep the military in control.

Human rights groups estimate the regime holds more than 2,100 political detainees, including Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.

The junta denies the existence of any political prisoners, saying all detainees have committed crimes.

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