Myanmar cuts jail terms on 'humanitarian grounds'



Myanmar cuts jail terms on `humanitarian grounds` Yangon: Myanmar's army-backed regime on Monday announced it was reducing the sentences of some prisoners to mark Independence Day, but made no mention of a much- anticipated release of political detainees.

All inmates, except those imprisoned for life, will see their prison terms cut in honour of the national celebrations on Wednesday, according to an order from President Thein Sein.

The announcement, which said the decision was for "national solidarity and respecting humanitarian grounds", is likely to disappoint observers hoping that Myanmar would free scores of dissidents held behind bars in the country.

Under the order, death sentences will be commuted to life imprisonment, jail terms above 30 years will be reduced to 30 years, those between 20 and 30 years will be cut to two decades and shorter sentences will be cut by a quarter.

It is unclear how many political prisoners will be released as a result of the move, particularly as most high-profile dissidents, like those from a failed student uprising in 1988, are serving decades behind bars.

All releases will begin from tomorrow.

Prisoner amnesties are a regular Independence Day event, but this year it comes amid heightened hopes that Myanmar would bow to international pressure and free more political prisoners, estimated by activists to number anywhere from 500 to more than 1,500.

The new nominally civilian government, which in March replaced a long-ruling military junta, pardoned more than 6,300 prisoners -- including about 200 political detainees -- in a much-anticipated amnesty in October.

But many top critics were left locked up, disappointing observers and Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy party.

Last week Aung Ko, chairman of the judicial and legal affairs committee of the lower house, told reporters that more prisoners of conscience would be freed on the national holidays of January 4 and February 12.

Myanmar's opposition and foreign governments have welcomed a series of reformist gestures by Myanmar's new leadership, but have maintained pressure on the country to free its remaining political detainees.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted on the release of all Myanmar's prisoners of conscience during a historic visit to the country earlier this month.

PTI