Image from The Irrawaddy
Burma’s military-backed civilian government granted amnesty to 6,359 prisoners on Wednesday, the full moon day of Thadingyut (the tenth lunar month). According to AAPP (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)), among the prisoners, only 206 were the political prisoners whereas there are about 2,000 political prisoners in Burma. That means only 5 % of political prisoners were released, though some prominent political prisoners such as Zarganar, infamous comedian and Sai Say Htan, a leader of the Shan State Army were included under amnesty. Yet many 88 generation leaders and monk-led protesters in 2007 still remain in various prisons across Burma. It’s obvious that Burmese government does not legally recognize that there are political prisoners in Burma.
Most of political prisoners vary from 88 generation leaders, members of the main opposition party (National League For Democracy), monk-led protesters in 2007, ethnic group leaders, Cyclone Nargis helpers and journalists (according to BBC) where most of them are serving long-term prison sentences. Most of them were charged under the law 5/96 which prohibits the basic human rights, freedom of expression, which also allows the government to re-arrest them whenever they feel them to be a threat.
ASEAN chairman responded to the president Thein Sein’s amnesty positively whereas the international community cautiously welcomed and called for the unconditional release of all political prisoners.
What does this limited amnesty really mean? What does Mr.President Thein Sein of Burma want? Well, there are couples of reasons behind his generous amnesty.
First, he wants his government and the 2008 constitution drawn by the military government to be legitimate. He would like to prove that his government is elected and democratic. He wants the international acceptance which will ease the economic sanctions, and most Western and European countries called for the release of political prisoners. He wants to be the chairman of ASEAN, which will be certain to gain Burma international attention, to draw the attention of World Bank and IMF for the sake of his business elite, who were being sanctioned to have business with western countries. He wants no protest by the people, so much so that he even halted the plan to build the dam which would have profited China and businessmen affiliated with his government.
This current military-backed civilian government is no different with the previous military government. The previous military government has killed more than 3,000 people from 1988 to 2011. The current government still has their military operations against ethnic armies in Shan and Kachin States while they are calling for peace talks with all ethnic groups. If they are really a democratic government, why don’t they attempt to stop the longest civil war since 1948? Why don’t they call for dialogue between opposition parties, ethnic leaders and the government? Why don’t they call for discussions including international community to have a concrete answer for change? Most importantly, why do they still resist amending the 2008 constitution which has a hole to let the military to take power whenever they think is necessary? Without all those primary needs, neither the halt of the dam project nor the release of small amount of prisoner will mean anything’s changed.
Dear Mr. President, we all know that you want us to be pleased, yet you are misleading us. If you want your name to be known good in history, please do have some sympathy.