RELEASING POLITICAL PRISONERS: THE FIRST MAJOR HURDLE FOR NEW GOVERNMENT

by Alan Nichols

Two days ago the President of Myanmar Htin Kyaw released 83 political prisoners, having pardoned them as an exercise in ‘national reconciliation and peace of mind.’ This represents the first major hurdle of the new government led – in effect – by Aung San Suu Kyi following last November’s landslide victory in national elections.

Releasing them was a significant promise of the new government. But it meant they had to free people imprisoned by the former military government for reasons of squashing dissent and repudiating free speech.

The newly released join in the free streets of Yangon and Mandalay newly elected Members of Parliament who themselves served prison terms for years, and suffered terrible health consequences.

Among those released were four journalists and an executive from the newspaper Unity Journal, who had been sentenced to ten years hard labour for reporting an alleged military chemical weapons factory.

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Karenni former students gather in January 2015 at a memorial in Loikaw to remember colleagues who died in the 1988 uprising.

All over the country former dissidents and students from the 1988 uprising celebrated release of friends and colleagues in the democracy struggle. The expectation is that more political prisoners will be released in coming months, as the Rule of Law resumes operation in the country which had been ruled by the military since 1962.

The university and High school students who led the 1988 uprising suffered terrible losses. Many were shot down in the streets of Mandalay and Yangon. Others fled towards the Thai border, formed camps for the displaced, but having no experience in armed fighting and little experience of living in the bush, many died there. Others fled across into Thailand and became vocal opponents of the military regime from a distance. Others were accepted as refugees and moved to the US, Canada, Norway and Australia. The loss to the country of Burma of thousands future intellectuals and professionals has been profound.

 

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