Burmese Prison Release Includes Dozens of Political Prisoners

Posted October 12th, 2011 at 2:40 am (UTC-5)
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Rights groups say Burma released dozens of political prisoners Wednesday, including a famous monk and a comedian, as it begins a mass release of thousands of prisoners.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said it had confirmed at least 50 political prisoners among those released so far. These include Ashin Gambira, a leader of the so-called “Saffron Revolution” in 2007, and popular comedian Zarganar .

However the family of at least one prominent dissident was told their relative was not on a list of those to be released.

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.

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.

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.