Burmese government offers scant "amnesty" for prisoners

Burmese President Thein Sein announced yesterday that “Prisoners will get amnesty on humanitarian grounds and through sympathy for their families.” He went on to specify that the “amnesty” offered by the government means:

  • All death sentences will be commuted to life in prison.
  • All prisoners will be given a one-year deduction?from their prison term.

No mention was made of political prisoners. The government’s action follows calls from the international community for Burma to take more steps towards democracy. Burma recently applied for the chairmanship of ASEAN and held meetings with a high-ranking UN diplomat, possible signals that the country is attempting to engage more with the international community. Following Burma’s bid for the ASEAN chairmanship, several human rights groups called for Burma to demonstrate its commitment to democracy before it is considered for the chairmanship. Last week’s diplomatic visit ended with the UN representative calling the government’s statements on democracy “very encouraging,” but the diplomat went on to call for more effective action. The amnesty offered by the Burmese government is weak and does not show any real movement towards democracy. There are more than 2,000 Burmese political prisoners in jail, some with sentences of more than 50 years. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), Burma is still arresting political prisoners.? These political prisoners will be shown no amnesty. Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed doubts that the new government will be any different from the old Junta. So far, this seems to be true.

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