A Cruel Clemency
Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Today is Burma's Independence Day, but the country is in no mood for celebrating. To mark the occasion, the now nearly year-old “civilian” government of President Thein Sein has announced the latest round of prisoner releases—the third since he assumed power last March, and by far the most disappointing.

Thein Sein's prisoner “clemency” came as a real blow to those who expected far more, including not only those unjustly imprisoned for their political convictions and their families, but also the nation as a whole. With only a few dozen political prisoners released—most after already serving the bulk of their sentences—it appears that last year's tentative moves toward reform are quickly losing steam.

If that is the case, 2012 is off to a very somber start. Thein Sein's order to commute death sentences to life imprisonment and reduce lengthy prison terms by a decade or less will be cold comfort to those still behind bars, and also sends the message that Burma's transition to full democracy is set to proceed at a glacial pace.

Last October, the government freed 6,395 prisoners, of whom only about 200 were political detainees. That number also fell far short of what the people of Burma and the rest of the world wanted to see, but it didn't prevent the country winning its bid for the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations in 2014, or stand in the way of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's landmark visit in December.

Now, however, it will be harder to justify such gestures from the international community, which must step up its efforts to secure the release of all political prisoners in Burma before making further conciliatory moves.

For her part, Burma's pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, today conceded that “Changes have not come about as quickly as we had hoped,” while urging her followers not to lose patience. She also emphasized her continuing confidence in Thein Sein's reform efforts, which she enthusiastically endorsed last year.

But at this stage, not even comforting words from the most trusted person in Burma can change the fact that hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars for no good reason. Until that changes, and political leaders such as Min Ko Naing and Hkun Htun Oo are once again in the public eye, hope for real change remains dim.

There are, of course, other issues that must be addressed, such as negotiating an end to ethnic conflicts and reforming the country's economy, but these are no excuse for allowing some of Burma's most courageous and patriotic citizens to languish in prison cells.

Since this is the time of year that many people make resolutions, the people of Burma—including those who have appointed themselves as our leaders—should firmly resolve to make 2012 the year that our country becomes truly free by freeing those who have devoted their lives to standing up for our rights.

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Terry Evans Wrote:
Sorry Nyi Nyi but it is impossible to predict the time and progress of revolution. It is governed by its own more or less mysterious laws. However, one thing is certain and that is the generals are totally untrustworthy.

nyi nyi Wrote:
The Burma train is leaving and where it will end up is an academic discussion at the moment. With the 88 students on board the train will go faster but without them the train will go slower. Nevertheless, the train is leaving with ASSK and the NLD on board together with the government and the international community who have commercial and geopolitical interests. The 88 generation students should join the NLD instead of doing their own way like the break-away NDF which will be crushed between the two giants the NLD and the USDP. The West is watching carefully what the 88 generation students would do in relation to the NLD. That is why Willima Hauge was very keen to hear from them. Objecting to the NLD flag was a foolish and unwise move by the 88 generation students. Being revolutionary is one thing but being politician is another. The revolutionary days are over in Burma, at least for the time being.

KML Wrote:
In the he Battle of Marathon, Pheidippides was running from Marathon to Athens after the battle, to announce the Greek victory with the word "Nenik?kamen!" (We were victorious!), where upon he promptly died of exhaustion.
By using the same analogy, those who have given the whole lives for the people of Burma may not enjoy the outcome. They need to serve in the prison. This is bitter to accept but harsh reality.
The people who will gain enormous benefit from this change are businessmen. But, at least history will judge!!

Mawshe Wrote:
Snakes change their skin but we should know that the same snakes will have same poison after skin changes. Burma is not in the right track to democracy. It is on the way to prolong same dictators ruling the country. When can we judge who is bad or right when law makers are those same bustards?

Ben Wrote:
What has twenty years of non-cooperation gotten Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma? Has anything improved in that time? If she has given up she has only given up on old strategies. What she is doing makes sense. Play ball, join the process and show that you're willing to work with them. Yes she's granting them some legitimacy but neither the international community nor the Burmese are going to forget 50 years of oppression just like that. And no, they don't have all the legitimacy they need, have sanctions been removed? Are the Burmese satisfied? If the reform fails to materialize or Burma regresses then public pressure will be even greater and people can take to the streets again...but for now, play the honest partner and see what progress can be made.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Roland Watson's assessment of the Burmese struggle and the way forward deserves a wider audience. Sadly it has fallen on deaf ears as far as the mainstream opposition is concerned.

A unified and coordinated fight between above and underground opposition forces, both ethnic and Bamar, armed revolution and nonviolent action such as mass civil disobedience, protests, boycotts, strikes as well as winning over the security forces to mutiny and the formation of a parallel govt à la Gene Sharp.

Such a Burmese Spring did happen in 1988, only our leaders that sprang up on the high tide of the uprising failed to harness and channel it in the right direction to sweep away the military dictatorship once and for all.

Looks like they are going to let us down once again. History will not be kind to those who fail to learn from it, who lose faith in the people and instead go for making deals with the regime behind their back. They will be consigned to the dustbin of history.

tint tint Wrote:
Let see how DASK plays her political agenda when NLD has a small voice in the new administrative system after upcoming by-elections scheduled to be held on April 1. It all depends on how she prioritizes the agenda (releasing political prisoners, ethnic conflicts, poverty, health, education, etc.) and whether the US wants to push for three main political parties or more to exist in the Burma political system. Don't give up 88 generation leaders. We, international community, is behind you to be free first. It is very clear that Thein Sein and Shwe Man could not make a clear decision yet, therefore, as usual, leave the decision to DASK.

nyi nyi Wrote:
The government will have to deal with ASSK and the NLD only now. She is the key player internationally and is a valued prize for the government. If and when the 88 generation leaders are released they are unlikely to join the NLD and instead set up their own political party. This is a problem in Burma that if you put 3 people together they will set up 3 political parties instead of gathering behind a person and give support. The government has got ASSK on board and the rest are dispensable. If 88 generation leaders are not politically shrewd they will be staying behind the bar for a long time to come.

Kerry Wrote:
Excellent article!

With respect

Roland Watson Wrote:
It couldn't be clearer why Burma's military junta, the SLORC/SPDC/NDSC, didn't release more political prisoners. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has given up. The junta releases political prisoners when it needs to improve its international legitimacy. Now that Daw Suu and the NLD have rejoined the legal fold, the generals have all the legitimacy they need. Without renewed, strong, public pressure, the heros of Burma will be held in prison until they die.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Why bother when they are doing so well with ASSK safely in the frame? The bargaining chips have a pecking order and the govt is using them sparingly to effect.

Will the US also soften up like the Lady? Her release was probably deemed a more than adequate sop combined with the U turn on the dam.

Should the people get Shwe Gas lined up in their crosshairs as the next target for public protest - our own bargaining chip? Or do we just leave our 'leaders' on both sides making deals behind our back?

myichi tarheel Wrote:
Reforms couldn't happen with only one person and this disappointing stupid clemency shows that there still are a lot of dumb persons in the government, totally uninterested in the good of the country. They are the ones that need to be rooted out and put in jail in place of the selfless political prisoners.

More Articles in This Section

bullet Courage and Cowardice in the Courtroom

bullet The President's Speech

bullet Burma’s Trust Deficit

bullet Burma’s Much-Awaited News Finally Arrives

bullet Human Rights in Burma: No Excuse for Delay

bullet Time for Thein Sein to Prove the Skeptics Wrong

bullet Making it Legal

bullet Burma's Forgotten Farmers

bullet One Year Later: Bogus Election Offers Some Hope

bullet Asean Should Bide Its Time on Burma Getting Key Role

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