Paris-Bangkok, 6 January 2012 - The Burmese government is continuing its public relations game which has delivered little substantive change by refusing to honor previous promises to release all political prisoners, said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma). This week it declared an “amnesty” that comprised the release of only a handful of political prisoners and prison term reductions that did not significantly bring most prisoners closer to freedom from arbitrary detention.
On 2 January, Burmese president Thein Sein signed a clemency order that commuted death sentences to lifetime imprisonment and reduced the sentences for other prisonersbased on their original sentence. According to State media reports, 6,656 prisoners were freed on 3 January. However, only between 32 to 34 among them, or a meager 0.5% were political prisoners. In October 2011, a similar clemency order freed more than 6,000 prisoners, of whom only 237 or 3.7%, were political prisoners. Many senior democracy movement leaders such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Min Zeya, Htay Kywe, U Gambira and approximately 300 ethnic group leaders were not among those released. Many of them will still be in prison for 30 more years under the terms of the 3 January clemency. On 23 December, 2011, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP) reported that there were still 1,572 political prisoners in Burma.
“This so-called clemency is merely a part of the military-led government’s cynical tactic to relieve international pressure and garner credibility for its supposed transition towards democracy,” said FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen. “The international community should not forget the long sentences many of the remaining political prisoners are serving and must press for their immediate freedom.”
In an even more blatant disregard of international human rights norms and calls for genuine reform, the Burmese government has continued to arrest and detain political prisoners. In November 2011, the government arrested at least 11 activists. On 16 December 2011, the government sentenced Karen leader Nyein Maung to 17 years in prison for having ties to the Karen National Union, an organization the government is engaging in peace talks. The release of political prisoners can not be taken seriously if the government continues to flood its prisons with activists, said FIDH and Altsean-Burma.
“The international community cannot allow itself to be fooled by public relations ploys that fail to address the ongoing and systematic human rights abuses in Burma,” added Ms. Belhassen. “The international community must be vigilant in holding the government accountable to enacting true reform in Burma.”
“It is time for the diplomatic honeymoon to end. The international community has been applauding the Burmese government’s two-faced game of courting of the NLD while it detains many of its members behind bars. It continues hostilities in Kachin State despite public statements to the contrary. The international community should not allow itself to be fooled again. The small steps forward by the authorities in meeting with democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will only be meaningful with the immediate release of all political prisoners and a halt to hostilities against ethnic communities” said Debbie Stothard, Deputy Secretary-General of FIDH and Coordinator of Altsean-Burma.