May 17, 2013

Following reports that 23 prisoners, 19 of whom are political prisoners, are being released today, just hours before Thein Sein leaves for a trip to the USA where he is due to meet president Obama in the White House, Burma Campaign UK accused President Thein Sein of blatantly using political prisoner releases as PR tools.

The previous dictatorship, of which President Thein Sein was one of the most senior members, was notorious for using the strategic release of political prisoners to try to alleviate international pressure. Thein Sein has continued this policy.

Thein Sein seems to have judged, sadly apparently correctly, that the Obama administration is particularly gullible and likely to respond positively to this kind of manipulative use of political prisoner releases. Thein Sein strategically released around 100 political prisoners ahead of his visit to the USA in September 2012, and then strategically released around 50 political prisoners when Obama visited Burma in November 2012.

“The release of any political prisoner is welcome, but two years after the reform process began, people should be asking why there are still hundreds of political prisoners still in jail,” said Wai Hnin, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK. “These releases are blatantly designed to get good publicity ahead of Thein Sein’s visit to the USA. It is disgraceful to use political prisoners for public relations like this.”

While hundreds of political prisoners have been released since Thein Sein became President, hundreds more have been arrested in Kachin State and in Rakhine State. The exact numbers are not known, but could mean that the overall number of political prisoners in the country has fallen by a figure in the low hundreds, rather than almost a thousand.

Thein Sein has also left almost every repressive law used to jail political prisoners in place. Almost all the releases of political prisoners have only been released conditionally, meaning that if they engage in political activities which the government does not like they can be put back in jail and have to serve a new prison term and their old prison term.

Burma Campaign UK is still verifying that those expected to be released actually have been, but it does seem that four of the 19 political prisoners released today have been highlighted as political prisoners of the month in the ‘No political Prisoner Left Behind’ organised by Burma campaign groups worldwide. They are Win Myint, Kan Min Thar, Tun Oo, and Aung Naing.

This press release was updated on 20 May 2013.

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