Myanmar Ban welcomes release of political prisoners looks forward to further action

24 September 2008Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has once again called for the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar, following yesterday’s “welcome” move by the Government in freeing several detainees as part of an amnesty procedure. Those released included the country’s longest-serving political prisoner, U Win Tin, and six other senior members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. The other six are Dr. May Win Myint, U Aung Soe Myint, U Khin Maung Swe, Win Htain, Dr. Than Nyein and U Thein Naing. “The Secretary-General reiterates that all political prisoners should be released and that all citizens of Myanmar should be able to enjoy political freedoms, as necessary steps towards the process of national reconciliation and dialogue,” his spokesperson said in a statement. “He looks forward to any further action by the Myanmar Government in this regard.”The release of political prisoners was one focus of discussion between the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, and the Myanmar Government during his latest visit to the country in August.The head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has expressed his “immense joy” at the release of the 79-year-old U Win Tin, a writer and former newspaper editor who was detained for nearly 20 years, and the laureate of a press freedom prize instituted by the agency.“In freeing U Win Tin and other prisoners, the authorities have taken a wise and positive step towards respecting the fundamental human right of freedom of expression, an indispensable component of democracy and rule of law,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said. U Win Tin was arrested in July 1989 and was accused of belonging to the banned Communist Party of Myanmar. Sentenced to 14 years jail, he received an additional term of five years in 1996 for breaking prison regulations prohibiting the possession of writing materials.In 2001, he was honoured with the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, named after the Colombian newspaper publisher assassinated in 1987 for denouncing the activities of powerful drug barons in his country. News of the release of the seven prisoners was also welcomed yesterday by the independent UN expert on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, who said he hoped the move “would be the first in a series of releases of other prisoners of conscience, some 2,000 of whom are currently estimated to be still detained in Myanmar.”