Police assist a newly released prisoner at Insein Prison in Yangon Wednesday. (Reuters)
Police assist a newly released prisoner at Insein Prison in Yangon Wednesday. (Reuters)

Watching Burma’s prisoner release

CPJ and other Burma watchers are monitoring the announcements of the unfolding prisoner release closely. As a press freedom organization, we’ve focused most closely on the fate of the 14 journalists we counted in jail in Shawn Crispin’s report, “In Burma, transition neglects press freedom” that we posted on September 20. In our alert today we welcomed the release of Burmese blogger and comedian Maung Thura, bringing that number down to 13, and there’s a chance the number might even be lower.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) released a list of 206 prisoners who were given their freedom Wednesday.  We’re pleased to see that among those on AAPPB’s list were Myint Naing, an assistant to Hla Hla Win of the Democratic Voice of Burma, and Sein Win Maung, the office manager of Myanmar Nation weekly news journal. It’s important to note that Hla Hla Win, who was given a 20-year sentence, is still in jail, while Thet Zin, Myanmar Nation‘s editor, was freed in a 2009 amnesty but that Myanmar Nation never reappeared in print, effectively silenced by the government’s harsh anti-media policies.

Crispin sounded a wary note in his report and, despite the enthusiasm generated by the first round of releases on Wednesday, we’re waiting to see what will come in the next few days. 

CPJ has been confronting Burma’s rulers over restrictions on journalists’ freedom since we were founded in 1981. And while we’re happy for the families who are able to greet any prisoners that are allowed to walk out of the front gates of Burma’s many prisons, we note that there are still restrictive rules on Internet access and no new laws to expand media freedom have been put forward.  It’s just too soon to declare success of any great dimension.

Between Crispin in Bangkok and CPJ’s staff in New York, we’re staying in touch with Burmese exile groups and sources inside the country, comparing release lists and rumors. Despite an urge to be first, we’ll proceed carefully.