Burma Releases Prisoners; US Renews Sanctions
May 17, 2011
By: Carlos Aramayo | Printer Friendly
In what has been described by critics as an attempt to improve its image, on May 16, the government of Burma released nearly 17,000 common criminals despite calls to free political prisoners. The move comes under an amnesty based on humanitarian grounds. Previously the Burmese government has been criticized for its poor human rights record and failure to make democratic reforms. Economic sanctions, including banning United States (US) companies from investing in Burma and banning Burma exports to the US, was implemented in 1997. According to BBC News, President Thein Sein said the government had decided to convert the prison terms. In effect, prisoners who had been condemned to capital punishment would get life imprisonment and those who had prison terms would see their sentences by reduced by 12 months.
Voice of America reports that the Human Rights Watch (HRW), however, described the government's amnesty announcement as pathetic, adding that a one-year sentence reduction for prisoners serving 65 years was a "sick joke." "This is a pathetic response to international calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW. Additionally, HRW said that the so-called amnesty move was like a 'slap in the face' to top United Nations envoy Vijay Nambiar, who visited Burma last week and described the recent government comments as very encouraging.
Similarly, describing the move as "astonishingly insufficient," Amnesty International urged a comprehensive release of "prisoners of conscience."
BBC News additionally reports that the US renewed economic sanctions against Burma, urging it go farther and release political prisoners. Explaining the decision to Congress, US President Barack Obama said sanctions were required because of Burma's "large-scale repression of the democratic opposition."
For previous news on Burma, please see:
Burma’s Military Government Officially Dissolves; Remains Oppressive Says US
Voice of America – Burma Frees Prisoners as US Renews Sanctions
BBC News – Burma begins releasing prisoners under new amnesty
The White House – Notice from the President regarding the annual renewal of the national emergency with respect to Burma
Amnesty International – Myanmar: Prison sentence reductions are not enough