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Myanmar announces amnesty for 514 prisoners

Myanmar [JURIST news archive] officials on Monday announced amnesty for 514 prisoners. The Ministry of Information did not identify the prisoners who will be freed, but activists have identified several political detainees and foreigners slated to be released [AP report]. The release announcement comes a week before President Thein Sein [BBC profile] is scheduled to travel to New York to attend the UN General Assembly [official website]. Thein Sein has issued three amnesties freeing more than 300 political prisoners in the last year, his government having put freedom for political prisoners at the center of its reform policies. The amnesty announcement also comes on the same day that Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] publicly demanded the immediate release of all remaining political prisoners [HRW report] in Myanmar and called for a lifting of travel and other restrictions on those who are freed. HRW also claimed that the government has "failed to address significant psychosocial and economic needs of former political prisoners when they attempt to reintegrate into society," citing great difficulties with reintegrating into families and society after years or decades in prison. Despite Monday's announcement it is estimated that 300-500 political detainees remain imprisoned in the country.

Earlier this month Myanmar's parliament passed a new foreign investment law [JURIST report] after months of debate and modifications, including a requirement that foreign investors contribute at least US$5 million when engaging in joint ventures with local businesses. Thein Sein opposed the minimum contribution requirement and other provisions of the bill because he believed they would discourage foreign investment in the country. Despite recent reforms oppression and sectarian violence remain in Myanmar. Last month Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released a report concluding that Myanmar's army is still committing human rights abuses [JURIST report] against ethnic minorities in Karen state. Also that month the country sentenced two UN staff members [JURIST report] to prison for their involvement in sectarian violence. That was one week after Thein Sein announced creation of a 27-member commission [JURIST report] to investigate causes of the violence. Also in August HRW accused Myanmar forces of committing multiple human rights violations [JURIST report] following an outbreak of sectarian violence.

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