Amnesty in Burma (not a new section)

I have got a Google alert set up, which sends me any news reports as they break which feature the word “amnesty” with the word “Burma”, and today there has been a deluge of articles flooding in.  This time though, the amnesty is the sort with a small a- an official pardon, a release, a reprieve, an exoneration.

The trigger, was an announcement that Burma’s president is to grant an amnesty to more than 6,300 prisoners in Burma. We have been calling for the release of 2,200 political prisoners for years, and it is yet unknown how many of those set for release are political prisoners. They include people peacefully calling for democracy, journalists, students and at least one comedian.

The announcement comes as part of a wider attempt at laundering the image of the “new” government in Burma, following last year’s elections, the first in two decades.  Following their election, the new government, which still has very close ties to the military, freed Burma’s iconic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and made a series of other moves to improve their reputation. Most recently, a high ranking official suggested that censorship of the media might be abolished.But before you pop the corks, read this comment piece in the Guardian, from Waihnin Pwint Thon, the daughter of Ko Mya Aye, one of the Generation 88 student leaders who is currently serving a 65-year jail sentence in Burma for his part in the 2007 protests –  as are many of the political prisoners. In it, she warns of the dangers of buying into this new look Burma, where people believe persecution is in the past. She still does not know if her father will be among those released tomorrow.

However, this is undoubtedly an improvement, and one that should be welcomed. Cautiously welcomed. It is hard to know what level of celebration is appropriate for an announcement of the pending release of some of the 2,200 prisoners, who should never have been jailed in the first place. However hearing Burma's new human rights body call for the release of "prisoners of conscience"  would have been inconceivable this time last year, the stuff that dreams are made of, and progress by degrees, is, in my view, still progress.

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