The Myanmar government says it will soon release all prisoners of conscience as part of its political reforms.
In his monthly radio address on Tuesday, Myanmar President U Thein Sein said that he would free all prisoners of conscience. " We are taking time to investigate cases that confuse criminal offences and political offences, " the Myanmar president said in his monthly radio address, adding that those who were convicted of violent crimes linked to political acts would “deserve their sentences. ” However, many activists say the government’s amnesties are propaganda efforts seeking political gain in the international community.
" We welcome the fact the government admits it has political prisoners, " Mark Farmaner, a director of Burma Campaign UK, said, adding, " But with Burma(Myanmar) it is always best to judge by action not by words… Thein Sein has promised to release prisoners before, but why are there hundreds still in jail? "
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the US Campaign for Burma advised the United States not to extend new trade benefits to Myanmar. "Burma does not yet have the safeguards in place to protect citizen's rights and assure the rule of law, especially in resource-rich minority regions," US Campaign for Burma Executive Director Jennifer Quigley said. Over the years, minority religious and ethnic groups have not fared well in Myanmar, and some of them have been waging armed rebellions against the central government for decades. But recently, the central government has been trying to make peace with the armed separatists. On May 31, the government and the rebels in the state of Kachin signed an agreement, which had been brokered by United Nations Special Envoy to Myanmar Vijay Nambiar and representatives from the ethnic umbrella group United Nationalities Federal Council. The agreement was reached with the Kachin Independence Organization -- the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army. However, Rohingya Muslims have been denied Myanmar citizenship since a new citizenship law was enacted in 1982, and there have been a number of attacks on Rohingyas over the past year. And the situation has recently deteriorated for the other Muslims of Myanmar. The violence that originally targeted Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar is beginning to spread to other parts of the country, where Muslims who have been granted citizenship are now being attacked, according to the website burmamuslims.org. About 800,000 Rohingyas in the western state of Rakhine are deprived of citizenship rights due to the policy of discrimination that has denied them the right of citizenship and made them vulnerable to acts of violence and persecution, expulsion, and displacement. The Myanmar government has so far refused to extricate the stateless Rohingyas from their citizenship limbo, despite international pressure to give them a legal status. Rohingya Muslims have faced torture, neglect, and repression in Myanmar for many years. Hundreds of Rohingyas are believed to have been killed and thousands displaced in recent attacks by extremists who call themselves Buddhists. The extremists frequently attack Rohingyas and have set fire to their homes in several villages in Rakhine. Myanmar army forces allegedly provided the fanatics containers of petrol for torching the houses of Muslim villagers, who were then forced to flee. Myanmar’s government has been accused of failing to protect the Muslim minority. Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has also come under fire for her stance on the violence. The Nobel Peace laureate has refused to censure the Myanmar military for its persecution of the Rohingyas, although she recently condemned the decision by local officials in Rakhine state to enforce a two-child policy on Rohingya Muslims. Rohingyas are said to be Muslim descendants of Persian, Turkish, Bengali, and Pathan origin, who migrated to Myanmar as early as the 8th century. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued separate statements, calling on Myanmar to take action to protect the Rohingya Muslim population against extremists.