Burmese Prison Release Includes Dozens of Political Prisoners

Posted October 12th, 2011 at 5:55 am (UTC-5)
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Burmese opposition and human rights groups say the government released dozens of political prisoners Wednesday, including a famous monk and a popular comedian.

Members of the opposition National League for Democracy said the organization has identified more than 100 political prisoners who were included in a mass amnesty covering thousands of criminals.

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi said every individual has priceless values and she welcomes the release of every individual.

She also she hopes more prisoners of conscience will be let go.

Among those freed were Ashin Gambira, a monk and leader of the so-called “Saffron Revolution” in 2007, and popular comedian Zarganar .

State-run television said Tuesday the government will release more than 6,000 prisoners, including those who are aged or infirm and those who have exhibited good behavior. It was not clear how many of the country's more than 2,000 prisoners of conscience would be included because Burma does not consider any of its prisoners to be political.

Zarganar , whose stage name means “tweezers,” was arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 59 years in prison for criticizing the former military junta's slow response to Cyclone Nargis.

He told VOA's Burmese service after his release that, in prison, he felt as if he had been captured by Somali pirates.

He said he remains saddened because of those political prisoners who remain in jail and called on Burmese politicians to back up their talk with real actions.

Gambira, a founding member of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance, was sentenced in 2007 to 68 years in prison for his role in street protests that were brutally suppressed by the then-ruling military government.

The release is the most dramatic in a series of moves by the new government, which took office in March, to begin tolerating some dissent. Western governments have demanded reforms before they will consider lifting economic sanctions.

The rights group Amnesty International welcomed the release of political prisoners, but said it cannot be considered as progress unless the numbers increase substantially. Amnesty pointed out that 127 political prisoners were included in a mass amnesty in September 2009.