MYANMAR: PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES AMNESTY FOR DEATH ROW PRISONERS
|Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein
May 16, 2011: Myanmar's new president announced an amnesty for prisoners, commuting the sentences of inmates on death row to life in jail, and reducing all other sentences by one year, state television reported.
President Thein Sein's announcement comes after last week's visit by United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar.
Nambiar reportedly asked the newly elected government to release 2,000 political prisoners as a gesture that the regime was serious about democratic reforms.
Myanmar officials told Nambiar that an amnesty was 'likely,' but continued to deny that there were any political prisoners in the country's penal system.
Human rights groups and pro-democracy activists have condemned the recent regime change as purely cosmetic.
The November 7 general election brought the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party to power led by former general Thein Sein.
Human Rights Watch has urged the international community to continue to shun the elected government until it demonstrates a real commitment to political reform.
The election was criticized by Western nations since it excluded opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).
The NLD boycotted the November polls after the military passed regulations that would have forced them to expel Suu Kyi from their party in order to contest the elections.
â€śWhile the reductions are welcome news for political prisoners, they are astonishingly insufficientâ€ť, said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty Internationalâ€™s Myanmar researcher.Â â€śThese actions fall well short of the comprehensive release of all prisoners of conscience desperately needed in Myanmarâ€ť.
Amnesty International also called upon Myanmar to go beyond commuting death sentences and join the worldwide trend towards the complete abolition of the death penalty.Â
The Myanmar authorities hold over 2,200 political prisoners, many of whom have been subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.Â They are held in poor conditions in prisons that lack adequate medical treatment and are often located far away from prisonersâ€™ families. (Sources: DPA, AI, 17/05/2011)