Burmese Prison Release Includes Dozens of Political Prisoners

Posted October 12th, 2011 at 6:30 am (UTC-5)
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Burmese opposition and human rights groups say the government released dozens of political prisoners Wednesday, including a popular comedian.

Members of Burma's 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. Among those freed was comedian Zarganar , who angered the government by criticizing its response to a deadly typhoon.

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.

A Thailand-based rights group initially reported the release of Ashin Gambira, a founding member of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance and a leader of the so-called “Saffron Revolution” of 2007. But the group later said it could not confirm his release.

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.

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.