Myanmar frees five political prisoners under Thein Sein pardon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 1:27am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 1:29am


Myanmar freed five prisoners yesterday and more are expected to be released next week as part of a pledge by the country's president to release all political prisoners by the end of last year.

The move came after President Thein Sein granted a pardon on Monday to those convicted of, or charged with, a variety of political offences such as unlawful association, high treason, contempt of government and violations of the peaceful assembly law.

The decree also halted all ongoing trials and investigations connected with the charges.

The amnesty follows a promise made by Thein Sein in July last year that all political prisoners would be freed by the end of 2013.

Those who were freed had their names on a list held by the Political Prisoners Scrutinising Committee, said Bo Kyi, a committee member. He added that more people were expected to be freed next week.

"We welcome the presidential pardon order. However, several steps need to be taken to maintain a level of zero political prisoners. There must be rule of law and more political freedom to maintain that level," Bo Kyi said.

The five were freed from district jails and Yangon's Insein prison. "We were freed today because the laws that were used to put us behind bars are weak. Anyway, I respect the president for keeping his promise to free political prisoners before the end of the year," said Yan Naing Tun, one of the political prisoners freed from the notorious Insein prison.

Yan Naing Tun and Aung Min Naing, who led a march to the headquarters of the ethnic Kachin Independence Organisation in northern Myanmar early last year, were serving seven-month sentences for breaking the Peaceful Assembly Law because they had not got permission for their march.

Ye Aung, a former political prisoner, said another 200 activists facing trial for political charges would immediately have them dropped.

The pardon may not cover all prisoners listed by the committee as political detainees, as some were also convicted of other crimes such as murder, he said.

Since Thein Sein became president, he has freed about 1,300 political prisoners, Ye Aung said. A former general who was elected president in 2011 after five decades of military rule, Thein Sein instituted reforms to lift the country's sagging economy.

Myanmar had faced sanctions from Western nations - now mostly lifted - over its poor human rights record and undemocratic rule.