Yangon — President Thein Sein of Myanmar pardoned 69 political prisoners on Friday as part of a promise to free all such prisoners by the end of this year.
The announcement came as Myanmar hosts several international delegations, including former US president Bill Clinton and former British prime minister Tony Blair.
Two of those freed are the grandsons of former dictator Ne Win, who had been on death row since 2002 for allegedly attempting a coup to overthrow the military regime of senior General Than Shwe, which was in power at that time.
The grandsons, Aye Ne Win and Kyaw Ne Win, were imprisoned along with sorcerer Sayalay Aung Pwint Khaung, who was accused of performing black magic rituals to ensure the success of the coup, who was also released Friday, according to reports.
The well-known activist Naw Ohn Hla was another of the more prominent prisoners freed Friday.
Most of the prisoners freed are members of ethnic minorities, according to Ye Aung, who is a member of the government’s political prisoner scrutiny committee.
Western countries that want to promote Myanmar’s transition to democracy after some 50 years of brutal military dictatorships have been concerned about the continued detention of political prisoners.
Critics say the nominally civilian government that took over in 2011 has continued to lock people up for political offenses.
“Today’s release is of course welcome, but the fact remains that there are many imprisoned for peaceful activism still behind bars in Myanmar,” said Amnesty International ‘s Asia-Pacific deputy director Isabelle Arradon,
“We continue to receive reports of peaceful activists and human rights defenders being harassed and at risk of imprisonment for nothing but expressing their opinions,” she said. “This has to end immediately, otherwise, releases like the one today will be meaningless.”
Ye Aung, who is himself a former prisoner, said that at least 60 political prisoners remain in jail.