Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] lauded [press release] Myanmar's government on Friday for its decision to form a committee to review political prisoner cases. The committee will determine whether to grant amnesty to Myanmar's political prisoners, many of whom were allegedly falsely charged or convicted of a serious offense, arbitrarily detained, or imprisoned solely for their peaceful political activities. There has been a strong international political push to encourage Myanmar to establish such a committee. However, Isabelle Arradon, AI's Deputy-Director for the Asia-Pacific, expects more from the committee:
"We are heartened by this very important first step towards establishing a review mechanism. However, it is imperative to have assurances that the mandate of this new committee will extend to all prisoners who have been unfairly detained, not only political prisoners....The commission should have a strong mandate in order to bring an end to arbitrary detentions and ensure human rights for prisoners and detainees in Myanmar."AI further calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, and for a fair retrial for persons found to have suffered an unfair trial.
Forming a committee to review political prisoner cases is the latest in a series of reform efforts under Myanmar President Thein Sein [BBC profile]. In January, Sein abolished Order No. 2/88 [JURIST report], which banned gathering and delivering speeches in public by a group of five or more people. Earlier that month, Myanmar repealed [JURIST report] a 1996 law enacted under which dissidents could be sentenced for up to 20 years for delivering speeches that threatened peace and stability. In December Myanmar announced [BBC report] that it would permit privately owned newspapers for the first time in 50 years beginning in April. In conjunction with a visit by US President Barack Obama [JURIST news archive] in November Myanmar announced that it would be releasing a number of political prisoners [JURIST report]. In September Myanmar announced amnesty for 514 prisoners [JURIST report], identified by activists to include several political detainees and foreigners.