"President Thein Sein claims to be a reformer, but 18 months after becoming president there are still hundreds of political prisoners, and he has not abolished any of the laws which were used to arrest and jail them,” said a Burma Campaign UK campaigns officer. “These releases are not about reform, they are about providing a fig leaf for President Obama for him to justify lifting more sanctions, despite the fact that Burma is still not a democracy and still has one of the worst human rights records in the world.” While Thein Sein has released hundreds of political prisoners, most have only been released conditionally, face travel restrictions, and have received no compensation or even an apology, said the statement.
Thein Sein has never acknowledged that they should never have been jailed in the first place, said BCUK. At the same time as these political prisoners have been released, hundreds of people have been arrested in Kachin and Rakhine state. Exact numbers are not known, but could easily be greater than the number of those released.
“These days the international community always takes the most positive view of what President Thein Sein does, but if you look at it from the other side, while Thein Sein decided to release some political prisoners, he also made a decision to keep most political prisoners in jail,” said BCUK. “For the sake of hundreds of prisoners suffering in appalling conditions, we need to move on from this slow pace of releases. “An independent commission should be set up, with UN support, which can identify all those in jail for political reasons, and ensure they are released immediately,” he said.
For decades the former military junta in Burma employed a tactic of releasing some political prisoners ahead of important international summits or at times when there were discussions on increasing sanctions, said BCUK. Thein Sein, who from 1997 was one of the most senior members of the dictatorship, is continuing to use this tactic, said the statement.
The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma welcomed the release of political prisoners and urged the authorities to continue “this systematic liberation” without conditions.
Human Rights Watch urged the Burmese government to support a joint international and domestic monitoring mechanism to determine which prisoners are being held for exercising their basic rights under international law.
Amnesty International believes that there are still individuals who are being arbitrarily detained : it is essential that they are not forgotten. AI renew his call on the government to urgently set-up a mechanism (with assistance from the United Nations and participation from civil society) to review the cases of all prisoners to determine the true reason for their arrest.