Myanmar rights body urges release of political prisoners

Myanmar rights body urges release of political prisoners

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[JURIST] The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) on Sunday urged President Thein Sein [BBC profile] to release political prisoners [letter, PDF]. In an open letter to Sein published in three state-owned newspapers, the MNHRC indicated that domestic and international support would follow the prisoners’ release. Sein had granted amnesty to 6,359 prisoners in October following a similar open letter issued by the MNHRC. MNHRC Chairman Win Mra called for the release of the political prisoners and recommended that Sein transfer certain prisoners to prisons closer to their families:

The release of the remaining prisoners, including those cited above convicted for breach of existing laws who do not pose a threat to the stability of State and public tranquility, in the interest of national races, will not only enable them to participate in whatever way they can in the nation-building tasks but also will in a way help promote national unity. Accordingly, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission again humbly requests the President as a reflection of his magnanimity to include those prisoners when a subsequent amnesty is granted. If for reasons of maintaining peace and stability, certain prisoners cannot as yet be included in the amnesty, the Commission would like to respectfully submit that consideration be made for transferring them to prisons with easy access for their family members.

The MNHRC estimates that there are 500 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar custody, while other estimates reach 2,000. Some sources suggest that amnesty will be granted [AP report] to the prisoners as early as Monday.

In October, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] welcomed [statement] the release of political prisoners by Myanmar’s president, while urging the government to release all political prisoners [JURIST report] in accordance with the rule of law. Days earlier, US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell indicated that Myanmar’s civilian-led government was planning dramatic changes including releasing hundreds of political prisoners [JURIST report] and consequential dialogue with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Myanmar has sought to improve its international reputation following a transfer of power from a military regime to a civil system in March after holding its first elections in 20 years. Myanmar’s government formed the MNHRC [JURIST report] in September to promote and safeguard the country’s constitutional rights. In August, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana urged the government of Myanmar to investigate human rights abuses [JURIST report] and improve its rights record. In May, Myanmar began releasing as many as 15,000 prisoners [JURIST report] as part of an amnesty program after a visit from a special envoy from the UN secretary-general, but rights groups claim the government has not gone far enough.