Burma Begins Clemency, as Activists Express Disappointment

Posted January 3rd, 2012 at 7:15 am (UTC-5)
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Burma on Tuesday began releasing prisoners as part of a government-ordered clemency program. But some activists say not enough political prisoners are being freed under the deal.

Dozens of family members of inmates gathered Tuesday outside the notorious Insein prison in Rangoon, waiting for the release of their relatives.

But many were disappointed the clemency appeared to do little for the hundreds of political prisoners thought to be held in the country, despite recent democratic reforms.

On Monday, President Thein Sein signed a clemency deal that would reduce the sentences of most inmates to mark the country's 64th anniversary of independence.

Under the program, some death sentences will be commuted to life imprisonment. Prison terms above 30 years will be reduced to 30 years, and those between 20 and 30 years will be cut to 20 years. Shorter sentences will be cut by a quarter.

Many activists and relatives of prisoners had hoped for amnesty instead of sentence reductions.

Activists also worry the clemency will not affect Burma's high-profile dissidents, many of whom are associated with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

A Thai-based human rights group told VOA's Burmese service in November that it knew of more than 1,600 political prisoners who were still languishing in Burmese prisons. Those figures were announced just days after the country's new, nominally civilian government released about 200 detainees.

Burma claims that only some 300 political prisoners remain incarcerated.