A joke too far, a release not far enough

The release of prisoners of conscience today turned out to be something of a damp squib, a hollow promise. Just yesterday, numbers in the thousands were being bandied around. Today, we are looking at around 120 political prisoners amongst those released.

It is a shame that the number actually released turned out to fall so short of the amount that had been suggested. For a while there, we had even contemplated the release of all of the more than 2,000 political prisoners still suffering appalling conditions, in Burma’s horrific jails.

Had we not thought that likely, then this would have been a welcome announcement.  It is the raising of expectations which makes the crashing down to reality so much more difficult. Difficult mostly for the families, who had allowed themselves to get excited, to tidy the house, and cook special meals, and yet who have been disappointed. Read this increadibly moving piece on the Guardian from Waihnin Pwint Thon, who had allowed herself to hope that her father, one of the Generation 88 leaders might be amongst those released.

This is good news though, as Aung San Suu Kyi said herself, the release of every single person, is precious and important. But as we pointed out today, we are talking about just dozens of political prisoners, which does not set this amnesty apart from those conducted under the military government. If the new government is trying to distance itself from their predecessors, then nothing says watershed like a complete overhaul of the judicial system, prison conditions and political repression. No sign of that yet.

Amongst those released today, was  the comedian and long term Amnesty case, Zargana, who was arrested in 2008 after publicly criticising the government’s response to Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 140,000 people.

It is brilliant to see him walk free, after so long in prison, and having campaigned for his release for such a long time (it’s been great to watch the twitter outbursts from his fellow comedians who supported our campaign in Edinburg last year, too).

Speaking to the BBC shortly after his release, the previously fearless funny man was wary of his new-found freedom, describing it as conditional.

Zargana told the reporter "If I do something wrong they will send me back. I'm not happy today because there are so many of my friends still in prison.”

If that’s meant to be funny, I don’t get it.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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