Myanmar on Tuesday pardoned dozens of political prisoners a day after the European Union agreed to end almost all sanctions against the former pariah state, activists said.
Bo Kyi of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) said, at least 59 political prisoners were included in the latest amnesty.
“More than 200 political prisoners are still in prison,” he continued. “Political prisoners should be recognized as political prisoners and be released unconditionally.”
He said, the amnesty included 40 former rebels from eastern Shan state jailed for drug trafficking while describing them as “victims of politics”.
Nyan Lin, another activist, from the 88 Generation group, confirmed that at least 30 political prisoners were released.
Based from his counting, he included 17 Muslims arrested and charged under the emergency act after religious clashes in the central town of Kyaukse in 2003.
A Myanmar government official said that total of 93 inmates were pardoned but did not identify them. Out of the pardoned inmates, three were foreigners.
He said, “This release aims to allow them to participate in building the country and is also based on humanitarian grounds.”
According to State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, the United States welcomed the latest release but called for the unconditional freedom of all political prisoners.
Since President Thein Sein took power in March 2011 Myanmar has freed hundreds of political detainees although they have been long denying their existence. The government publicized a reassessment of all politically allied cases in November last year.
Myanmar’s former junta was accused by rights groups of wrongfully imprisoning about 2,000 political opponents, dissidents and journalists.
And activists state Myanmar’s government has used a series of headline-grabbing prisoner releases for political gain.
In November it seems that it was done to coincide with a landmark visit by US President Barack Obama when the country’s new reformist regime pardoned dozens of political prisoners. “I think the government is releasing prisoners because the EU lifted sanctions. We welcome their release,” said activist Toe Kyaw Hlaing, who has been working to secure pardons for imprisoned dissidents. Rights groups have cautioned that the EU risk losing leverage against Myanmar by scrapping the measures.
On Monday, New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Myanmar of “a campaign of ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine as they cite evidence of mass graves and forced displacement of tens of thousands.
The Rohingya, who are denied citizenship by the country also known as Burma, have faced crimes against humanity including murder, persecution, deportation and forced transfer, the watchdog said.
The government denies but the results of the HRW report were released on the same day that the European Union raised all remaining sanctions against Myanmar, apart from an arms embargo, in a move that HRW described as premature.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry welcomed the EU move, saying it would be “greatly beneficial to the Myanmar people who have demonstrated their strong determination to achieve democratic reforms and have been actively supporting the government’s reform process during the last two years”.