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Burma Releases More Political Prisoners

Political prisoner Win Shwe, center, is welcomed by family members after he was released from Insein Prison in Rangoon, Burma, Dec. 31, 2013
Five prisoners were released Tuesday as part of an amnesty announced by the Burmese government. President Thein Sein vowed to release all remaining political prisoners by the end of the year, but rights groups say many still remain unjustly behind bars.

The prisoners are being released from Rangoon’s Insein prison as part of what the government has announced will be a sweeping amnesty.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), those pardoned include peace activists Aung Min Naing and Yan Naing Tun. They had been imprisoned for leading a peace march to Laiza, the capital of war-torn Kachin state.

Thein Sein promised in July, during a state visit to London, he would free all political prisoners by the end of the year.

Bo Kyi, who advocates directly with the government on behalf of the AAPP, estimates there are about 40 prisoners left to be released under the president's amnesty. He said another 200 activists currently facing trial should have their charges dropped.

Earlier this month, 41 activists were released from jail to coincide with the Southeast Asia Games, but according to AAPP two of them were re-arrested within days of their release, including copper mine activist Naw Ohn Hla.

“Those who are facing trial will… [have their charges dropped] and those who were re-arrested will be released today or tomorrow if they were charged under Section 18, the peaceful demonstration act or Section 505 they will be released,” said Bo. Section 505 refers to legislation against causing a public disturbance.

Bo said the remaining prisoners will be released throughout the first week of January as the judges hand down their pardons. Since Thein Sein became president, 1,300 political prisoners have been released.

In addition to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, Bo Kyi said that there are prisoners considered by the government to be "special cases," such as Tun Aung and Kyaw Hla Aung. The two Muslim community leaders were arbitrarily detained and given lengthy sentences during deadly riots in Rakhine state last year, but it is unclear if, or when, they will be pardoned.