Govt won’t take the ‘political’ out of ‘prisoner’, parliament told

Legal recognition will not be given to the term ‘political prisoner’ to ensure that all prison inmates have equal status under the law, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Brigadier-General Kyaw Kyaw Tun told parliament on July 21.

He was responding to a question in the Pyithu Hluttaw from Dr May Win Myint, who holds Yangon Region’s Mayangone constituency for the National League for Democracy.

All prisoners needed to have equal legal protection and equality under the law, Brig-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Tun said.

A reference in the Penal Code to ‘state prisoners or prisoners of war’ had been mistranslated to refer to political prisoners, he said, adding that the term ‘state prisoner’ was included in a law that became invalid in 1922.

Brig-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Tun said a total of 354 people – 341 men and 13 women – who were jailed for opposing the government had been released under amnesty by President U Thein Sein.

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They were released during 2013 after their cases were evaluated by the committee for scrutinising political prisoners formed by the government early that year.

Brig-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Tun, who referred to the freed inmates only as “prisoners”, said their release under amnesty had followed domestic and international calls for their freedom.

Speaking during a parliamentary recess, NLD leader Daw Aung San Su Kyi told journalists that anyone jailed for political reasons was entitled to be called a political prisoner.

It was ironic, she said, that the government had formed a committee to evaluate whether political prisoners could be released under amnesty but did not want to recognise the term ‘political prisoner’.

Brig-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Tun said MPs could discuss recognition for the term ‘political prisoner’ when they debate draft prisons laws tabled by the Home Affairs Ministry.

In a debate on the laws in the Amyotha Hluttaw on July 21, the NLD’s U Aung Kyi Nyunt (Magwe-4), called for the term to be legally recognised.

Since the change of government in 2011, a total of 71,960 prisoners – 61,777 men and 10,183 women – have been released under amnesty. The government has never admitted that they included political prisoners.

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