Myanmar frees 44 political prisoners
11 December 2013, 17:27
Yangon - Myanmar on Wednesday freed 44 political detainees, a presidential adviser said, the latest in a series of prisoner amnesties by the country's reformist regime.
"In total 44 political prisoners have been released around the country today," Hla Maung Shwe told AFP.
President Thein Sein has pledged to release all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar by the end of the year.
The former general, who took power in March 2011, has earned plaudits and the removal of most western sanctions for reforms that have included freeing hundreds of critics detained under the previous junta.
Under his leadership, the nation has undergone dramatic changes including the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
But activists say authorities continue to prosecute dissidents.
About 44 political detainees are in jail while 200 are awaiting trial, according to Bo Kyi of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).
"The government should create rule of law and space for demonstration," said Bo Kyi, who is a member of a government appointed committee tasked with identifying political prisoners.
"As long as there are arbitrary detentions, there will be political prisoners."
Rights groups accused Myanmar's former junta of wrongfully imprisoning about 2 000 political opponents, dissidents and journalists.
Many of those released on Wednesday were connected to the country's ethnic conflicts, Bo Kyi said.
As part of its reforms Thein Sein's government has reached tentative peace deals with major armed ethnic minority rebel groups in the country, which has been racked by civil wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1948.
Activists accuse the government of using the headline-grabbing prisoner releases for political gain and leverage with the international community.
The latest amnesty came as foreign dignitaries gathered in Myanmar's capital for the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games.