Voices from Rangoon: Burma’s Recent Release of Political Prisoners

On January 13, 2012, the Government of Burma released hundreds of political prisoners, many of whom had languished in prison for decades. This followed another release in October 2011.

As noted by President Obama, the release of political prisoners is a “substantial step forward for democratic reform.” The United States will continue to work with the Government of Burma on their reform and reconciliation efforts, including ensuring all remaining political prisoners are released unconditionally.

Many of those released have distinguished themselves as steadfast, courageous leaders in the fight for democracy and human rights at critical times in their country’s recent history.

Learn about some of their stories below.

Min Ko Naing aka Paw Oo Tun

Min Ko Naing (aka) Paw Oo Tun is one of Burma’s most famous political activists. First arrested in March 1989 for his political activism during the 1988 pro-democratic student demonstrations, he was sentenced to 20 years for instigating “disturbances to the detriment of law and order, peace and tranquility.” He remained imprisoned for 15 years until he was released in 2004, but was arrested again in 2007 for leading peaceful walking demonstrations against hikes in fuel, which eventually led to the nationwide demonstration known as the Saffron Revolution. When he was released again in January 2012, he was greeted by thousands of supporters. “I’m now free because of the support of the people,” he told the Associated Press.
U Kyaw Min (aka) Shamsul Anwarul Haque or Marmaud Shaoshu

U Kyaw Min (aka) Shamsul Anwarul Haque or Marmaud Shaoshu is an ethnic minority rights activist and a member of the primarily Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority. He was elected as a Minister of Parliament in the 1990 elections as part of Aung San Suu Kyi’s People’s Parliament. He was arrested and sentenced to 47 years imprisonment in March 2005 under Burma’s Citizenship Law and Anti State Emergency Law after meeting with an International Labor Organization delegation investigating complaints of forced labor. His wife, two daughters and son were also arrested and sentenced to 17 years respectively. U Kyaw Min, his wife, and two daughters were released from prison in January 2012. A relative of U Kyaw Min told the Kaladan Press Network, “We would like to thank to President Thein Sein, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, all political activists and international communities and leaders specially— US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague—who constantly worked hard for this triumph.” His son, however, remains in jail.
(Photo by Boo Thee of the Myanmar Times)
Hla Hla Win

Hla Hla Win is a journalist arrested in September 2009 while interviewing monks on video. The police originally charged her with the use of an unregistered and illegally imported motorcycle and sentenced her to seven years under the Import/Export Act. In December 2009 her jail term was extended by 20 years for violating the Electronics Act, which prohibits downloading or uploading data from the internet that is considered damaging to the security of the military regime. She was released in January 2012.
U Gambira (a.k.a.) Sandor Bartha Nyi Nyi

U Gambira (aka) Sandor Bartha Nyi Nyi, a monk and founder of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA), was arrested in November 2007 for his leadership role in organizing monks during the nationwide peaceful demonstration known as the Saffron Revolution. He was released in January 2012.

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