The Burmese government has ordered the release of a doctor and high profile Rohingya leader, arrested in 2012 on the pretexts of creating violence between Buddhists and Rohingya muslims in the western state of Arakan (Rakhine). Activists and pro-human rights organizations welcomed the news, but point out that – in spite of the promises of the reformist president Thein Sein – there are still dozens of political prisoners in Myanmar’s jails.
Since the fall of the military regime, in 2011, the Burmese government has ordered the release of more than a thousand prisoners of conscience or political detainees; a move that has served to ease international pressure and the removal of some sanctions. Even today, however,the country’s prisons are crowded by dozens of journalists, activists, peaceful protesters and peasants who rebelled against the forced expropriation of land.
The story of Aung Tun, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison following a “farcical” trial gained considerable attention internationally. In June 2012 he was accused of fomenting violence between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine and imprisoned for this. However, according to local witnesses and activists in the area, the same Burmese authorities had asked the doctor and leader to intervene to stop the clashes.
In these two and a half years of captivity there have been repeated appeals and initiatives to secure his release; the international mobilization on his behalf has been decisive for amnesties, curtailment of the sentence and, most recently, the presidential pardon. Greeting his release, activists and pro-human rights organizations point out that the government of Naypyidaw released some political prisoners, and then arrested a couple more.
Myanmar is composed of more than 135 ethnic groups, who have always struggled to live in a peaceful manner, in particular with the central government and its majority Burmese component. Since June of 2012 the western state of Arakan( Rakhine) has been plunged into violent one sided attacks by Rakhine extrimists to Rohingyas, which has left at least 200 killed and 250 thousand displaced.
According to United Nations estimates ,Myanmar – a predominantly Buddhist nation, with 50 million inhabitants – is also home to 1.3 million belonging to the Muslim minority, which the government considers illegal immigrants and that is why they are subject to abuse and persecution.
There are still 140 thousand displaced persons confined in refugee centers who, according to the Burmese government, must accept the classification of being Bengali – and obtain citizenship – or stay in the camps “for life”. Inside they are deprived of basic rights, including health care, education and the possibility of work. The Catholic Church in Burma has intervened on several occasions against marginalization and neglect faced by the Muslim minority.