Wed, Jan 04, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar’s jail-term reductions disappoint many

AFP, Yangon, Myanmar

A young girl leans against a fence as she awaits the release of a relative from Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Activists and Myanmar’s opposition expressed frustration yesterday after an order to cut jail terms for all inmates appeared to fall far short of hopes for an amnesty for political detainees.

Prisoner releases were set to begin yesterday after the army-backed government announced a general reduction to sentences, but failed to mention the plight of top dissidents.

National League for Democracy spokesman Nyan Win said it was not yet clear whether any of the party’s imprisoned members would be released as a result of the move.

“We were hoping for a real amnesty,” he said.

Myanmar’s political prisoners include former student protesters, monks, journalists and lawyers, and their fate is a key concern of the international community.

Under the order, death sentences will be commuted to life imprisonment, jail terms above 30 years will be reduced to 30 years, those between 20 and 30 years will be cut to 20 years and shorter sentences will be cut by a quarter.

Most high-profile dissidents, like those from a failed 1988 student uprising, are serving decades behind bars, so would have little hope of immediate release as a result of the announcement, which was made to honor Independence Day last Wednesday.

Aung Khaing Min, of the -Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, expressed disappointment that the order had not differentiated between political and criminal inmates.

“It is not even an amnesty, it is very frustrating,” he said.

He said it was “really chaotic” that the announcement was not in line with statements from some officials, who have indicated recently that more prisoners of conscience would be freed.

Myanmar’s new nominally civilian government, which in March replaced a long-ruling military junta, has shown signs that it is willing to reform in recent months by reaching out to the opposition and the West.

About 200 political detainees were freed in October, but activists estimate there are still between 500 and more than 1,500 prisoners of conscience in jail and many key dissidents remain locked up.

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