Myanmar frees at least three political prisoners in amnesty

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 03, 2012 8:48 AM
Myanmar frees at least three political prisoners in amnesty

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's president has freed 46 people in a general amnesty, state media reported on Tuesday, and 23 of them were political prisoners, according to a pro-democracy activist.

In addition to the 46 Myanmar nationals, authorities freed 34 foreigners under the amnesty, state media said.

Human rights activist Ko Ko Gyi, who was himself only released in January, told Reuters that 23 political prisoners were freed, among them Than Zaw, a former youth member of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party.

"We are still trying to contact those released from other prisons. We met the ones freed from Insein Prison (on the outskirts on Yangon) at our office today and gave them words of encouragement and necessary assistance," Ko Ko Gyi told Reuters.

Under President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government, which took office in March last year, more than 650 political prisoners were freed between May last year and January.

Than Zaw had been in prison since 1989.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 20 years for a bombing that another man had confessed to, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Another prominent political prisoner freed under the amnesty was Ko Aye Aung, serving a 59-year sentence.

Western countries have renewed engagement with Myanmar since the reformist government took office and they have urged that all political prisoners be released as a condition for the full lifting of sanctions.

Since April, many embargoes have been suspended to encourage reform.

The number of political prisoners still being held in Myanmar remains subject to dispute and the government has said the delay in releasing them is to distinguish between activists and what it calls terrorists or common criminals.

Suu Kyi's political party said last month that it counted 330 political prisoners still in jail. AAPP said there were 471 as of May, including 16 women and 50 Buddhist monks.

State media did not say where the foreigners released under the amnesty were from or give any details of their convictions.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ed Lane)