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5/18/11 Burma (AsiaNews) – President Thein Sein is set to reduce prisoners’ sentences by a year and commute death penalties to life in prison. With the measure, 19 members of the National League for Democracy are released. Human rights activists call for the release of the more than 2,000 political prisoners held in Burmese jails, describe the government’s amnesty as a “sick joke”.

The Burmese government has released 36 political prisoners, including 19 members of the dissolved National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi. This comes after newly elected President Thein Sein signed an amnesty law to release about 15,000 prisoners. Other convicts will see their sentence reduced by a year, and death penalties commuted to life in prison. Human rights activists have slammed the measure as a “pathetic response” to international pressures aimed at the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners.
In accordance with the government decree, more than 14,600 prisoners will be released from 42 prisons across the country, including 2,500 prisoners from Insein Prison, in Yangon. UN estimates put the number of prisoners in the country at 60,000, including 2,100 political prisoners, distributed in 109 labour camps.

“We have no so-called political prisoners,” said a presidential spokesperson, only common criminals, adding that the president will likely grant a general amnesty to prisoners at some point in the future.  Traditionally, amnesties are issued on special occasions. The most recent one occurred last 7 November when the ruling clique, under Senior General Than Shwe, led the country from a military junta to a civilian government in phony elections.

Human rights activists note that the decision to release a small number of political prisoners is not enough because it will not give freedom to Burmese jailed for their opinions or for fighting for democracy.

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