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(New York) – The release of key political prisoners on January 13, 2012 is a crucial development in promoting respect for human rights in Burma, but all remaining political prisoners should be freed immediately and unconditionally, Human Rights Watch said today.

Among those released are members of the 88 Generation student group that led the 1988 uprising, including leader Min Ko Naing, Nilar Thein, her husband Kyaw Min Yu, known as Ko Jimmy, as well as Htay Kywe. Shan ethnic leader Khun Tun Oo, monk leader U Gambira, journalists Zaw Thet Htwe, Ngwe Soe Linn, Hla Hla Win, and blogger Nay Phone Latt were also released today.

Burma state media said on January 12 that 651 prisoners would be freed so they can participate in the task of nation-building.

“Years of international calls to release long-detained political prisoners seem to have pushed the government to finally do the right thing,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should ensure that there are no obstacles to these activists participating in public life and upcoming elections.”

The US State Department had estimated that at least 1,100 political prisoners were detained in Burma and the Thai-based Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Burma counted more than 1,500. Given the closed nature of Burma's justice system, the lack of a free press and unsophisticated communications in one of Asia's poorest countries – particularly in remote ethnic areas affected by conflict – each of these lists may omit significant numbers of people being held for the peaceful expression of their political views.

Human Rights Watch called on the Burmese government to allow international independent monitors to publicly account for all remaining political prisoners.

“The latest releases are wonderful news for the individuals and their families, but foreign governments should continue to push for the release of all political prisoners, and for international monitors to verify the process,” said Pearson. “For years Burma's prisons have been off-limits to any independent monitoring mechanism. The next step for Burma’s government is to allow international monitors to verify the whereabouts and conditions of remaining political prisoners.”  

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