The Burmese authorities should immediately and unconditionally free all prisoners of conscience. That was the call from Amnesty International as 80 inmates, including some 24 political prisoners and 34 foreigners, were released from prison last week.
Among the 80 released on “humanitarian grounds” were three members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma’s leading opposition party. But the largest group is affiliated with All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), an armed group of students formed after the political violence of 1988.
“While we welcome the latest releases, it is crucial that the Burmese authorities release all other remaining prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Burma researcher.
He added, “At least 400 more political prisoners remain behind bars in Burma. Even if they are alleged to have committed or advocated violence, they should be afforded a fair trial under an internationally recognised offence, or be released.”
The sentences of the political prisoners released varied from three years to one case of a life term.
According to some reports, the former prisoners could still have their sentences reinstated, however, as conditions under Burma’s Criminal Code are attached to their releases.
The state-run newspaper, The New Light of Burma, said the 46 Burmese citizens were released “with a view to ensuring the stability of the State and making eternal peace” and “national reconciliation”.
Among the released was ethnic Karenni political activist Khun Kawrio, who was given a lengthy jail term for his peaceful political activism during 2008. He was sent to a prison far from his home, making family visits difficult and was subjected to torture during interrogation.
Benjamin Zawacki added, “With the assistance of the UN, the government of Burma must now establish a mechanism to review the cases of all prisoners there, to determine the true reason that they were arrested."
Amnesty said that there are undoubtedly political prisoners in Burma whose names have not been recorded, particularly in ethnic minority areas. Zawacki insisted that this review process should therefore go well beyond even the longest of the outstanding lists.
He explained, “For some of those released, psycho-social problems including post-traumatic stress disorder for victims of torture and solitary confinement, will require urgent attention and resources for rehabilitation purposes”.