Burma Action Ireland Statement on Release of Political Prisoners

20 Jan 2012

Burma Action Ireland welcomes the release of the 287* political prisoners by the Burmese authorities on Friday last (*AAPP-B estimate). Many of those freed are prominent democracy activists and leaders:

■      88-Generation Student Leaders Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Mya Aye, Nilar Thein, Htay Kywe and Ko Jimmy

■      2007 Saffron Revolution monk leader U Gambira

■      Shan ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo

■      All of the journalists working with Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and FreeBurmaVJ including musician / videojournalist (VJ) Win Maw, poet / writer/ VJ U Maung Zeya, his son and VJ Sithu Zeya, Hla Hla Win, Ngwe Soe Lin and blogger Nay Phone Latt

Thanks to all Irish people for the support given to them and to the democracy movement: the efforts of all who attended and participated in the ‘Words and Music’ concert, candlelight vigil, screening of BurmaVJ; signed petitions; sent a letter to the Burmese authorities calling for their release; wrote to the prisoners themselves is very much appreciated.

While the release of the political prisoners is a positive step, the newly-freed prisoners themselves had mixed reactions – concern for those political activists remaining in jail and uncertainty around the conditions placed on their own release.

Nilar Thein, the 88-student Generation activist sentenced to 65 years in prison for her role in the 2007 Saffron Revolution: “…. we have to work harder for our remaining colleagues who are still in prison. If all of them are released, that will be a beautiful image for all of us.” (Irrawaddy)

Shan ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo: “Firstly I would like to say it is important to free those who remain [in detention]. It would be best if there’s no one left in the prisons. I feel no emotion at all to be released because I wasn’t supposed to be arrested in the first place. I didn’t commit any of the crimes they accused me of – there was no national treason. I have wasted seven years of my life for something I didn’t do and there’s nothing to be happy about now.” (DVB)

Nearly all the political prisoners were released under a Presidential amnesty, which means that their sentence has been suspended but not cancelled and it could be reinstated at any time.

Freed DVB reporter Sithu Zeya: “It’s like we are being freed with leashes still attached to our necks. So I’m happy but with a leash still on my neck.” (DVB) If he commits any ‘crime’ in the future he will be forced to serve his full 18-year sentence.

Monk leader U Gambira: “What has changed in reality?  [Burma] still has a long way to go. Although they are releasing prisoners now, they still have characteristics of the dictatorship. What kind of democracy is this?” (DVB)

So while the release of the 287 political prisoners is a positive development, there is much more to be done and we must continue to work for the release of all political prisoners and the establishment of a meaningful democracy in Burma.

Keith Donald, Chairperson
On behalf of Burma Action Ireland Executive Committee

Burma Action Ireland

email: info@burmaactionireland.org web: www.burmaactionireland.org