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Myanmar reduces prisoners' sentences on humanitarian grounds

Myanmar President Thein Sein [BBC backgrounder] signed a clemency order on Monday that shortens sentences for many prisoners on humanitarian grounds in celebration of Myanmar's independence day. The presidential order commuted death sentences to life imprisonment [AP report], reduced sentences of over 30 years to 30 years, those between 20 and 30 years were reduced to 20 years, and sentences of fewer than 20 years were cut by one-fourth. The announcement fell short of the anticipated clemency for political dissidents, as urged in an open letter [text] published by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC). Myanmar's government proclaimed [AFP report] that the clemency order was issued on the grounds of national solidarity and humanitarianism. It remains to be seen whether or not political prisoners are included within the scope of the clemency order. Releases are expected to begin Tuesday.

Myanmar's nominally civilian government has implemented numerous political reforms since winning the first elections held in 20 years in March 2011. Earlier in December, the government approved a bill [JURIST report] that would give citizens the right to conduct peaceful protests, provided that they receive prior governmental authorization. In October, Sein released over 200 political prisoners [JURIST report]. In September, Myanmar's government created the MNHRC [JURIST report] to safeguard citizens' constitutional rights. Myanmar authorities released [JURIST report] pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], ending her almost eight years under house arrest.

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