segunda-feira, 17 de outubro de 2011

Myanmar likely to free "prisoners of conscience"

YANGON — Reclusive Myanmar is expected to release a number of political detainees on Wednesday under an amnesty for thousands of prisoners announced after the national human rights commission urged the president to free "prisoners of conscience".

State television said 6,359 prisoners who are "elderly, sick, disabled or have served their punishment with good conduct and character" would be freed on Wednesday, but did not say if political detainees would be among them.

General prisoner amnesties are fairly common in Myanmar. A May amnesty for 14,000 inmates included just 47 political prisoners, which human rights activists called a token gesture.

But there may be more reason for optimism this time.

One lawmaker, who attended a meeting on Friday in the capital, Naypyitaw, told Reuters the release of political prisoners could come "in a few days". He said that was the message given by Shwe Mann, the lower house speaker.

In an open letter published on Tuesday, Win Mra, chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, wrote that prisoners who did not pose "a threat to the stability of state and public tranquility" should be released.

."The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission humbly requests the president, as a reflection of his magnanimity, to grant amnesty to those prisoners and release them from the prison," the letter ended.

The commission was formed last month by President Thein Sein, a former general but who took over this year as the first civilian head of state in half a century.

The open letter marks a significant shift in the former British colony, also known as Burma, where authorities have long refused to recognize the existence of political prisoners, usually dismissing such detainees as common criminals.

There have been other significant signs of change since the army nominally handed over power in March to civilians after elections in November, a process ridiculed at the time as a sham to cement authoritarian rule behind a democratic facade.

Recent overtures by the government have included calls for peace with ethnic minority guerrilla groups, some tolerance of criticism and more communication with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released last year from 15 years of house arrest.

"It raises the question of whether the government is indeed moving toward some serious relaxation of its control of the population and of the way politics works in Myanmar," said Milton Osbourne, Southeast Asia analyst at Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy.

The government has faced pressure for change on multiple fronts - from the wildly popular Suu Kyi to the need to find alternatives to China in the face of popular resentment of its influence, to growing frustration in Southeast Asia over Myanmar's isolation as the region approaches an EU-style Asian community in 2015.

Diplomats say other factors play into Myanmar's desire to open up, include a need for technical assistance from the World Bank and other multilateral institutions which cut off ties years ago in response to rights abuses.

The country's infrastructure is in shambles and its economy has few sources of growth beyond investment from China and Thailand, and about 30 percent of the population living in poverty, according to U.N. data.

Some analysts say Myanmar also wants to show the United States that it is independent of China.

Last week, the government suspended a $3.6 billion, Chinese-led dam project, a victory for supporters of Suu Kyi and a sign the country was willing to yield to popular resentment over China's growing influence.

These moves have stoked hopes the new parliament will slowly prise open the country of 50 million people that just over 50 years ago was one of Southeast Asia's wealthiest as the world's biggest rice exporter and a major energy producer.

Nestled strategically between economic powerhouses India and China, Myanmar has been one of the world's most difficult destinations for investors, restricted by sanctions, blighted by 49 years of oppressive military rule and starved of capital despite rich natural resources, from gems to timber to oil.

In November 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama offered Myanmar the prospect of better ties if it pursued democratic reform and freed political prisoners, including opposition leader Suu Kyi.

But Washington's demands go beyond prisoners, making it unclear whether it would lift sanctions if the prisoners are released.

The United States has also demanded more transparency in Myanmar's relationship with North Korea and an end to human-rights abuses involving ethnic minorities in remote regions bordering Thailand and China.

A European diplomat in Bangkok said many European countries had privately urged the European Union to ease sanctions if prisoners were released and Suu Kyi changed her stance.

The EU was waiting to see how many political prisoners would be freed, an EU official said, adding that the release of a large number would be "an important step in building confidence with the international community that the government is serious about reform".

However, the official said he did not detect any rush toward lifting sanctions.

"While we have left open the possibility of a review, we are only scheduled to come back to this issue next April," he said.

In Tokyo, a foreign ministry official said Japan had resumed some aid to Myanmar in June after the release of Suu Kyi and other signs of reform.

"We may continue with this stance if there are more releases of political prisoners," the official said. "Work still needs to be done in terms of democracy but we think they are moving in the right direction."

Myanmar also appears to be trying to convince the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to allow it to take its rotating presidency in 2014, two years ahead of schedule and a year before the next general election.

It is unclear whether all political prisoners would be released at once, or indeed how many would be freed.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, said he had not heard whether political detainees would be freed. Families of prisoners also had not been told.

"We are still trying to find out," said Ma Nyein, sister-in-law of Zar Ga Nar, a jailed comedian and government critic.


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Mensagem de boas-vindas

"...Quando um voluntário é essencialmente um visitador prisional, saiba ele que o seu papel, por muito pouco que a um olhar desprevenido possa parecer, é susceptível de produzir um efeito apaziguador de grande alcance..."

"... When one is essentially a volunteer prison visitor, he knows that his role, however little that may seem a look unprepared, is likely to produce a far-reaching effect pacificatory ..."

Dr. José de Sousa Mendes
Presidente da FIAR