AAPP (2011) The Release of Political Prisoners in Burma

There are approximately 475 political prisoners currently in prison in Burma. The nominally civilian government denies that there even are political prisoners in Burma. In its response to questions about political prisoners made as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review on Burma’s human rights record, published 2nd February 2011, it was said that ‘Those referred to as “political prisoners” and “prisoners of conscience” are in prison because they had breached the prevailing laws and not because of their political belief.’

There have been many prisoner amnesties over the years. Hundreds or even thousands of prisoners are released under amnesties and they usually include the release of some political prisoners. Often the political prisoners released have already finished their sentences or their sentence is due to end soon. Some political prisoners who are released in amnesties are in ill health and the regime does not want the embarrassment of political prisoners dying in prison.

The military-backed government uses these prisoner releases as public relations exercises designed to try and ease international pressure. In reality, very few political prisoners are ever released during these amnesties. Although often welcomed as a positive sign by the international community, these prisoner releases have never been followed by a long-term reduction in the number of political prisoners. The number of political prisoners has, with occasional exceptions, remained roughly between 900 and 2,100 since 2002.

Between November 2004 and September 2009 there have been at least six amnesties for prisoners, under which, according to the regime’s own figures, 45,732 prisoners were released. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPP) calculates that only 1.3% of these were political prisoners. More recent data shows that despite the fact that the new nominally civilian Government had introduced some positive political and economic reforms; only 3% of the prisoners released under presidential orders between 2010 and 2012 were political prisoners.

Full paper here: The Release of Political Prisoners in Burma