The Burmese government yesterday freed at least 200 of its estimated 2,000 political prisoners. Officially, Burma denies having any such prisoners – but Human Rights Watch has worked hard to make sure these imprisoned activists weren’t forgotten. We held high-level meetings with UN and government officials visiting Burma, arming them with the evidence they used to pressure Burma into releasing these journalists, artists, and Buddhist monks.
Their release was part of a “humanitarian” amnesty of 6,359 prisoners. But Burma has made no move to repeal laws making it illegal to criticize the government.
We helped keep these jailed activists on the international agenda with our 2009 report, Burma’s Forgotten Prisoners, an important tool for reaching out to policymakers and the world’s media. Through our Behind Bars campaign, we distributed information about the people imprisoned – like the famed comedian Zargana, who criticized the government for refusing aid while tens of thousands died after Cyclone Nargis, or the labor activist Su Su Nway – both of whom were released today.
While freeing these prisoners was a positive first step, the rest of Burma’s political prisoners languish behind bars.