The latest release of 200 political prisoners in Burma is a step forward for human rights.
Three political prisoners - comedian Zarganar, labour rights activist Su Su Nway and 2007 Saffron Revolution demonstrator Zaw Htet Ko Ko - were released in the latest prisoner amnesty after years of tireless campaigning by Amnesty International supporters worldwide.
As Aung San Suu Kyi said: the release of all political prisoners is an important step forward for human rights in Burma. And while their freedom is certainly a cause for celebration, many hundreds still remain remain behind bars in the country's grim prisons - many simply for exercising their rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression.
Political prisoners in Burma are often held under vague laws used frequently by the government to criminalise peaceful political dissent. Many were tortured during their initial interrogation and detention, and are still at risk of punishment at the hands of prison officers.
Zarganar, who was jailed in 2008, is just one example of where these vague laws have been used to stifle dissent. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and the unfolding humanitarian crisis, he publicly criticised the government for their blocking of humanitarian aid.
Zarganar was sentenced to a total of 59 years for ‘crimes’ such as disrespecting the government, illegal assembly, defaming religion and illegally using video communications. When he spoke to the UK's BBC upon his release, he expressed his unhappiness that many of his friends could not join him.
Su Su Nway was sentenced for eight and a half years for taking part in anti-government protests against rising fuel and commodity prices in August 2007.
This latest round of releases does little to set apart this prisoner amnesty from those conducted under Burma’s former military regime. Prisoners of conscience - people who’ve been detailed solely for peacefully exercising their rights - still make up the majority of political prisoners jailed.
Does the release of 200 prisoners represent real change in Burma? It’s a minimum first step. This victory should inspire the international community to continue campaigning for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Burma.