President Thein Sein’s office ordered the formation of a commission to “grant liberty to remaining political prisoners”. The committee has been tasked to review existing cases and determine how many political prisoners remain in Burma, according to the report.

Thursday’s announcement is the first time the current government has officially acknowledged the incarceration of political prisoners in the country.

“A verification committee can only be successful if the government officially recognises all those detained under politically motivated arrests, not just those sentenced under traditional political laws and acts like the Unlawful Associations Act or Emergency Provisions Act.” said Aung Myo Thein from Assistant Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP-B). The AAPP-B spokesperson said they were unaware of what criteria the government would be using to define political prisoners. “If the government is serious about releasing political prisoners in the spirit of genuine national reconciliation, they must include all those who have been persecuted and arrested due to the government’s repressive laws,” said Aung Myo Thein. According to AAPP-B, there are still 222 political prisoners in Burma.

“Certainly we’re very interested to see what the composition of this review mechanism will be,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. Robertson said the participation of civil society organisations would be vital to the commission’s success. “Now, we’re hoping this is going to be the front end of a meaningful process that will involve civil society groups – both as informants and monitors and committee members because many of these groups have been active in compiling information about political prisoners for quite some time,” said Robertson.

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Previously, polical prisoners were release : photographer James Mackay was at the Rangoon airport on January 13 to document the homecoming of some of the country's most prominent activists. James Mackay pictures on Human Rights Watch website