Myanmar began releasing 17,000 prisoners on Tuesday, an official said, under a clemency programme that sparked outrage from critics as it leaves more than 2,000 political detainees languishing in jail. Among those set to be released were some of the intelligence personnel purged after the ousting of former premier and army intelligence chief Khin Nyunt in a power struggle in 2004, the official told AFP.
But the vast majority were expected to be common criminals, despite repeated calls on the government to free the huge numbers of political prisoners often held under vague laws for double-digit jail terms. Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, in a message read on state television on Monday, said that the government was reducing all inmates’ sentences by one year and commuting the death penalty to life imprisonment. Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the announcement a “sick joke” given the numbers of political prisoners in the country, while the United States urged the government to go much further as it renewed economic sanctions against Myanmar.
Amnesty International echoed calls for a comprehensive release of “prisoners of conscience”, with the group’s Myanmar researcher Benjamin Zawacki describing the latest move as “astonishingly insufficient”. The US and democracy activists have long called for a broader amnesty in Myanmar, where the military handed over power to a nominally civilian government led by a retired general after an election last year.