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Myanmar begins releasing political prisoners

[JURIST] Myanmar began the process of releasing the first set of 102 mostly political prisoners on Friday days before a democratic power transfer takes place in Myanmar's parliament [official website, in Burmese]. The democratic party led by Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile] will be sitting in parliament for the first time since winning the election last November. This development has come within days of a visit to Myanmar by US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken [official profile], who urged the outgoing administration under President Thein Sein [official profile] to free all political detainees. According to Zaw Htay, a director at the president's office, it was unclear how many prisoners had already been freed and whether all of them were political prisoners, however, the joint secretary of Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), Bo Kyi, put the number of prisoners released [Reuters report] so far at 52. Zaw Htay also stated that death sentences for 77 prisoners would now be reduced to life imprisonment. Among those to be released shortly include Phillip Blackwood, a New Zealand citizen jailed in the notorious Insein prison on a charge of insulting religion [Telegraph report]. This prisoner release is expected to contribute to a positive legacy of Thein Sein.

This development also comes in the wake of significant pressure from several members of the international community including human rights groups, the UN, and other countries. Less than a week ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Myanmar to release all remaining prisoners currently being held for political and religious violations. The National League for Democracy Party (NLD) [official website, in Burmese], which won the national elections [JURIST report] last November, promised [Myanmar Times report] that there will be no political prisoners when they take office in late March. However, HRW Asia Director Phil Robertson [official profile] had stressed [HRW report] that current Myanmar President Thein Sein should immediately fulfill a similar promise he made in 2012.

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