Myanmar frees two dissidents

At least two Myanmar dissidents have been freed along with 5000 other prisoners by the country's military government.

    Prisoners were freed from 41 jails across the country

    A prison department official said on Sunday inmates were being freed from dozens of jails throughout Myanmar and all 5070 should be released by the end of Sunday. 

    "We are releasing them from 41 prisons around the country and we will finish today," he said. 

    Well-known political prisoner Htwe Myint, 77, a senior member of the Democracy Party, was confirmed to have been released by his family. He had been serving a seven-year sentence which had already expired, relatives said. 

    "I have just been to see him at our cousin's house. The whole
    family is very excited," his niece said.

    Democracy Party chairman Thu Wai was also freed, according to a spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party headed by detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. 

    "I can confirm that both men were released," the NLD's U Lwin
    said. 

    Rights watchdog Amnesty International, which says 1350 political dissidents remain imprisoned in Myanmar, says both Htwe Myint and Thu Wai were serving seven-year jail terms for distributing leaflets in 1995 and had their sentences extended in 2002. 

    Laureate still held

    Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, was detained in May last year and is currently under house arrest for the third time.

    Aung San Suu Kyi was detained
    in May last year

    The NLD announced late last month that the authorities had extended the detention by another year.

    There has also been no indication that her deputy, Tin Oo, was released. 

    Seven truckloads carrying more than 300 inmates, most believed to be petty criminals, were seen rolling out of Insein prison - Myanmar's largest jail - on Sunday to be released at other locations. 

    The latest mass release is the third announced since 18 November and brings to 14,318 the total number of inmates the military government said it would free because they were wrongly imprisoned. 

    The small number of dissidents freed - less than 40 in the last two releases - has come as a blow to the NLD which had been hoping for freedom for 400 in the first set of releases alone, including 74-year-old journalist Win Tin, a key opposition figure and NLD member who has spent the past 15 years in prison. 

    No political substance

    Pro-democracy activists said the latest outflow of inmates looked set to offer little more.

    "The euphoria and hope generated by news of the initial release last month has now dissipated," said Debbie Stothard of regional pressure group Altsean-Burma. 

    She said the move lacked any real political substance without
    the release of Win Tin and other key political prisoners. 

    "This leads us to the conclusion that it's a cynical ploy to
    empty the prisons and gain popularity at home and abroad by making military intelligence look bad," she said. 

    The government said on Saturday the prisoners were freed "because of national intelligence bureau irregularities", referring to a military unit accused by Yangon of abusing its powers in
    arresting thousands of citizens. 

    SOURCE: AFP


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