BURMA/MYANMAR: Despite presidential amnesty, some political prisoners remain jailed

The Asian Human Right Commission (AHRC) welcomes the release of political prisoners and student protesters in Burma. This is another positive development, and the AHRC will continue to monitor developments and work closely on criminal justice reform in the transitional period toward democracy.

On 17 April 2016, Burmese New Year Day, the President of Myanmar, who assumed office in end March, released 83 prisoners under a presidential amnesty. The Order signed by the President stated that the pardon of the prisoners under Section 204 (A) of the Constitution aims for national reconciliation and peace of mind for citizens. The new government had also dismissed charges against the student protesters and their supporters on 8 April 2016; they had been in various states of limbo, facing trial for over a year.

The State Counselor Office of Myanmar had also issued a statement concerning the impending release of student protesters and political prisoners on 7 April 2016; the release followed the statement. Aung San SuuKyi, leader of the ruling party and Noble Peace Laureate, assumed the role of State Counselor of Myanmar on 6 April 2016, something that has allowed her an active role within the government.

Prominent Burmese activists Nay MyoZin and Naw Own Hla, who protested against the killing of a farmer by the police in connection with theLetpadaung Copper Mine Project, five journalists from Unity Journal who were sentenced 10 years imprisonment with hard labor due to a report alleging the presence of a Military chemical weapon factory, and writer Htin Lin Oo are among those who have been released.

Although the Presidential pardon issued on Sunday states that 83 prisoners would be freed, it did not provide detailed information on how many are political prisoners. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 63 political prisoners have been released from various prisons.

The AHRC notes that most of the released political prisoners were sentenced under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Act, as well as Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, the latter being one that deals with actions deemed likely to cause alarm in the public.

However, the prisoners charged under other sections, such as Section 17(1) of the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act and Section 5 of the Emergency Prevention Act are still behind bars. They need the approval of the State Security Council for release. Still, five out of eleven members in the State Security Council remain those appointed by the Military Commander-in-Chief.

LaphaiGan and BaranYaun of the Kachin State Internally Displaced Persons who were arrested and tortured over their alleged involvement in an anti-government armed group remain locked-up in prison. They were sentenced to seven years imprisonment, though the information that served the basis of their incarceration emerged from torturein arbitrary detention. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention sent a letter to the Myanmar government regarding the two ethnic Kachin men’s arbitrary arrest and requested immediate release and adequate provisions for them. Moreover, on 17 August 2015, the Supreme Court acquitted them, according to Criminal Appeal No 16, 17/2015. But, to date, they have not been released.

In addition, former Army Major Win NaingKyaw has not been included under the presidential amnesty on 17 April. However, ThuraKyaw, incarcerated in the same case and charged together with the Army Major has been released. Win NaingKyaw was accused of having secret information in his laptop and of passing on the same to foreign news agencies; he was arrested upon his return from a visit abroad. He was detained for 105 days and cases were lodged against him after 42 days of detention, based on confessions obtained through torture. He was given the death sentence under Emergency Provisions, 1950, Section 3, but the punishment was reduced to life imprisonment, under a 13 January 2012 amnesty order.

The AHRC has further learned that land rights activists and farmers who faced land dispute charges have also not been included in the release under the amnesty.

Burma is now heading towards becoming a democratic country; such a country shouldn’t have any political prisoners or politically motivated arrests or cases. Therefore, the AHRC calls for the new civilian government to release all the remaining political prisoners unconditionally as well.