Thursday, January 04, 2007

Freed Political Prisoners Remain Defiant

Freed Political Prisoners Remain Defiant

By The Irrawaddy and APJanuary 04, 2007

Political prisoners released under an Independence Day amnesty by Burma’s military government remain defiant, vowing Thursday to continue fighting for democracy and expressing concern for colleagues still behind bars.

Former political prisoners released in Wednesday’s amnesty join in Independence Day anniversary celebrations in Rangoon.

According to the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar, the military government on Wednesday granted amnesty to 2,831 prisoners to mark the 59th anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain, which falls on January 4.

A spokesman of the main opposition party National League for Democracy, Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy from the party’s headquarters in Rangoon that 43 political prisoners were among those released and 17 of them were NLD members.

“I will not surrender, I will continue with my duties,” said NLD member Than Htay, 60, who was released from a prison in northern Burma where he was serving a five-year sentence, along with his son, Than Tun Oo.

Than Htay and his son were both sentenced to five years imprisonment on a charge of violating import-export regulations, a common accusation leveled against political activists. Than Htay said he hoped his son might be released soon.

Than Htay spoke by telephone from Mandalay, where he was attending a small Independence Day celebration organized by the NLD.

Another released political prisoner and NLD member, Zaw Win, said: “Although I have been released, I am not happy because my colleagues remain detained under wretched prison conditions. Many of them are in poor health, some are very old and several have been in prison for nearly two decades."Zaw Win, 47, was sentenced in 1999 to 10 years imprisonment. He traveled 120 km south from Tharawaddy prison to Rangoon to attend celebrations at the NLD headquarters.

Another political prisoner, Zaw Min, who was freed on Wednesday from Thayet prison in central Burma, also traveled to Rangoon to attend the NLD celebrations there. He said that most of those released had almost served their sentences. He told The Irrawaddy: “I will continue my political activities.”

At the celebrations, the NLD called for the release of its party leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners. Suu Kyi, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has spent 11 of the past 17 years under house arrest and a number of senior members of her party are still among the estimated 1,200 political prisoners languishing in the junta’s prisons.

NLD Chairman Aung Shwe said Suu Kyi and NLD Vice Chairman Tin Oo should be immediately and unconditionally freed in order to create “a fair political climate for dialogue toward national reconciliation and democratic transformation.”

Several other released prisoners were among the 500 people who attended the Rangoon celebrations.In his official Independence Day message, carried by The New Light of Myanmar, junta chairman Snr-Gen Than Shwe called on citizens “to safeguard the independence and sovereignty of the motherland through the might of unity and harmony.

“Today, certain powerful countries are interfering in the internal affairs of other countries to dominate them in the political, economic and social aspects. That is indeed neocolonialism.”
The junta frequently accuses the United States and other western nations of trying to destabilize the regime.

The junta seized power after a bloody 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators led by Suu Kyi. In 1990, it refused to step down when Suu Kyi's party won a landslide election.
“I pray for the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and I will work for their freedom,” vowed Aung Naing, a 36-year-old activist who had been serving an eight-year sentence. “It will be disastrous if the Red Cross pulls out of the country. Prisoners are now facing health problems because of shortage of medicine and prompt medical care.”

Since December 2005 the junta has barred the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting its extensive network of prisons and labor camps. The ICRC has not threatened to pull out but some activists fear it may do so since its activities in the country have been severely curtailed over the past few years.

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