Nearly 70 political prisoners were freed yesterday, days after the Burmese President, Thein Sein, promised to free all who remain behind bars for opposing the government by the year’s end.
The continued imprisonment of prisoners of conscience in Burma, which is in the process of opening up following decades of isolation and brutal military rule, has been a key concern of Western nations.
After Tuesday’s releases, which included members of several ethnic minorities, more than 130 political prisoners are still believed to be behind bars.
Many new arrests and trials, meanwhile, are reported every month. Many are arrested for peaceful protests against illegal land seizures by the rich and powerful.
“It is important that the president has been releasing political prisoners,” said Thet Oo, a member of the former political prisoner society. “But it’s more important to stop arresting and charging those who are fighting for citizen’s rights.”
One of the big problems, critics say, is that all the repressive laws that put political prisoners in jail in the first place are still in place.
They accuse the government of only releasing inmates in small batches and usually for public relations purposes.
Mr Sein’s recent visits to London and Paris, in which he announced the release of the prisoners, was aimed in part at cleaning up his Burma’s image following bloody sectarian violence.