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Burma: Prisoner releases welcomed, but over a thousand still held

Amnesty International Asia Program Deputy Director Catherine Baber said:

'We are happy to hear of the release of prisoners of conscience, many of whom have been imprisoned for more than a decade.

'However there remains an urgent need to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience among over 1,100 political prisoners.

'We urge the authorities to use the momentum of this decision and release unconditionally - regardless of their political or religious allegiance - all prisoners of conscience, including Aung San Suu Kyi.'

Catherine Baber added:

'The release of prisoners of conscience should be a first step towards putting an end to abuse of the justice system to detain peaceful dissenters.

'The authorities must ensure however, that no conditions are attached that may be used to return people to prison should they resume peaceful political activities. They must guarantee that all people, including recently released prisoners, are able to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly without fear of repression.'

More than 1,100 journalists, student leaders, nuns, teachers, lawyers, students, monks and farmers are serving long sentences after unfair trials for acts of peaceful dissent.

Many of them are in poor health and have suffered torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Amnesty International is reiterating its calls to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to protect against future wrongful imprisonment by repealing laws that allow the prosecution of people on the basis of their peaceful political and religious activities.

The SPDC must also ensure that future trials accord with international fair trial standards.

A proportion of prisoners released today were eligible to be released with time off for good behaviour deducted from their sentences. A number of political prisoners, including NLD MPs elect, who were freed in a mass release of prisoners between November 2004 and January 2005, have been rearrested after resuming political activities, and given lengthy prison terms.

They are not known to have been included in today's release of political prisoners. Arrests for political reasons continue to be reported.

Among the prisoners released today for whose release Amnesty International has been campaigning are:

U Sein Hla Oo A former news editor, film critic and NLD Member of Parliament elect, who was imprisoned in Myitkyina Prison.

He had been conditionally released in an amnesty in 1993, and rearrested in 1994 for communicating 'fabricated news' to foreign journalists and diplomats, and distributing political materials.

He was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, and made to serve the outstanding part of his earlier sentence as the authorities stated that he had 'breached his promise and secretly carried out anti-government activities.'

U Khin Zaw Win a dentist and overseas student connected with the NLD.

He was arrested at Yangon airport on his way to Singapore and sentenced in connection with papers, computer disks and letters he was carrying which allegedly included 'anti-government sentiments'.

He was among a group of prisoners penalised in 1996 for allegedly attempting to send information regarding poor conditions in Insein to the UN, and for circulating news in the prison. Prisoners had been placed in military dog cells, forced to sleep on concrete floors with no bedding, and forbidden any visits from their families.

Kyaw Min Yu a student, was arrested in connection with his political activities in 1989, and was serving a sentence of 17 years' imprisonment.

He was originally held without charge or trial and then sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on charges of trying to incite unrest, and has completed this sentence.

He received a second sentence of seven years' imprisonment, while still imprisoned in connection with his alleged involvement in plans to distribute news from overseas broadcasts within Insein Prison, and to contact the UN Human Rights Commission about prison conditions.

Unconfirmed reports also state that U Win Tin, a 75-year-old editor was also released.

He was arrested 16 years ago on 4 July 1989, and sentenced to 20 years in prison on account of his political opposition to the authorities.

He has been denied basic rights, including the right to a fair trial, to writing materials and to humane prison conditions.

Last week, Amnesty International and Reporters without Borders delivered petitions for his release to Burmese embassies in Paris and London.

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