Political Prisoners from Ethnic Armed Groups Remain Locked Up: AAPP
15 January 2012: A leading Burmese rights group focused on the rights of political prisoners has said the latest round of amnesty did not include members of the ethnic armed groups whom the group considers political prisoners.
In a move that has received rare praise from Western nations, Burma released 651 prisoners on Friday, many of whom included high-profile dissidents serving long-term prison sentences. Among them is ethnic Shan leader Khun Htun Oo, who was sentenced to more than 90 years in jail.
But human rights award-wining Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) calls the exclusion of members of the ethnic armed groups damaging to the prospect of national reconciliation in Burma. The group says that by their count around 1000 political prisoners remain in Burmese jails and that the latest amnesty is both selective and discriminatory.
Burma’s National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a press conference in November, however, said that by her count there were only more than 500 political prisoners, in an alienating move that angered some dissidents who accused her of either ignorance or just counting only prisoners from her own party and other prominent dissidents.
While lauding Burmese President Thein Sein for the amnesty, the AAPP says it is concerned by the legal provision under which the prisoners were released.
“Article 401 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code [under which the prisoners were released] states that released political prisoners would have to serve the remainder of their sentences if needed, this greatly harms the human rights of released political prisoners and their ability to engage in activities openly.”
But the latest round of amnesty has prompted some Western nations to reward Burma for progress it made. The United States has announced the restoring of full diplomatic relations with Burma, while Norway has also approved Norwegian private business dealings in Burma.
The latest amnesty also reignited speculation about disappeared persons under Burmese custody.
Major That Ci and Captain Uk Lian Thang of the Chin National Front, who were arrested by the Burmese soldiers in the late 1990s, for example, have been the subject of much speculation among the Chins about whether they have been summarily executed or are still held in jail in Burma.
The Burmese government has so far justified the holding of the remaining political prisoners on national security ground.