One of Myanmar's longest serving political prisoners was released on Tuesday along with at least six other prisoners of conscience. U Win Tin, a 78-year-old journalist, prominent dissident and senior official in the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, had been imprisoned for 19 years.
The fate of the other estimated 2,100 political prisoners who are still behind bars in Myanmar remains, however, a cause for concern, according to Amnesty International.
"While the release of U Win Tin and his fellow prisoners is certainly the best news to come out of Myanmar for a long time, unfortunately they don’t even represent one percent of the political prisoners there," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Myanmar researcher. "These seven people should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and there are many, many more who should also be released."
Amnesty International has noted unconfirmed reports that the government of Myanmar may grant "amnesty" to as many as 9,000 prisoners in the run-up to planned elections in 2010. However, it remains unclear whether this figure includes political prisoners.
U Win Tin refused to accept an amnesty by the government, as to do so would have implied that the reason for his imprisonment was legitimate. Reports indicate that there were no conditions on his release.
"Prisoners of conscience, like those released today, are exactly what the term says: people sent to prison simply because of what they believe, and the peaceful actions they take because of those beliefs," added Benjamin Zawacki. "They have done nothing wrong and we call for their immediate and unconditional release."
The other six prisoners of conscience released are also NLD members and four are MPs-elect from the 1990 elections in which the NLD was victorious. They are:
Dr Daw May Win Myint (female), 58, an MP-elect, and Dr Than Nyein (male), also an MP-elect, 71, who were imprisoned in 1997 for organizing an NLD meeting. Their original sentences had been repeatedly extended since 2004 and they suffer from poor health.
Win Htein (male), 66, a senior assistant to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was imprisoned in 1996 for, among other offences, organizing farmers and NLD members to collect agricultural statistics. He had been held in solitary confinement and suffers from numerous health problems, including hypertension and heart disease.
Aung Soe Myint Oo (male), an NLD MP-elect, who was sentenced in August 2003 to seven years, for "having a motorcycle without a license", but was widely believed to have been targeted for his political activities.
U Khin Maung Swe, (male) 66, an NLD MP-elect, who was sentenced in August 1994 to seven years in prison.
U Than Naing (male), a member of the NLD.
"The release of these seven political prisoners is most welcome. But this is not – and cannot be seen as – an end in itself, only the beginning,” said Benjamin Zawacki.