May 17 - More than 2,000 prisoners were granted their freedom in Myanmar, but activists said only two political detainees were among them. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
Prisoners await their release in Yangon's notorious Insein Prison. More than 2,000 were granted their freedom, but activists said only two political detainees were among them. Myanmar's new government began freeing about 14,000 prisoners and commuting thousands more sentences on Tuesday in an amnesty critics dismiss as a token gesture aimed at improving its international image. Opposition Party Member Nyi Nyi Aung was among those released. SOUNDBITE: Opposition Party Member Nyi Nyi Aung, saying (Burmese): "Those remaining in the prison were keeping their expectations on they system change. Some believed that regardless of how many years they were given by the courts, they would be released eventually when the system changed. So they basically gave out their confession and took sentences. But now, it turns out there is only a year term reduction under the amnesty title, and it broke their hearts. They don't know what to do anymore." The large number of political detentions has been central to the imposition of economic sanctions on Myanmar's rulers since a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1988. Their release has long been a key demand by the West. According to the presidential decree, all death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment and many terms were reduced by one year. The amnesty comes at a time when sanctions are sharply in focus. Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma, insists there are no political prisoners in its jails and is trying to attract foreign investment. Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters