YANGON: Myanmar pardoned hundreds of prisoners yesterday under a mass amnesty criticised by pro-democracy activists as a cynical ploy to curry favour ahead of a landmark visit by US President Barack Obama.
Officials said 452 prisoners would walk free, but by the late afternoon rights groups said they were not aware of the release of any of the scores dissidents still languishing in jail.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has already freed hundreds of political prisoners incarcerated by the former junta, as part of reforms that have led to a dramatic thaw in relations between the one-time pariah nation and the West.
Campaigners including New York-based Human Rights Watch cast doubt on the motivation for the latest amnesty.
“It seems there is a new game in Burma, which is the political prisoners game, said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, calling the release “cynical” and lacking in transparency.
Obama will on Monday become the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar, where he will meet former general President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s most famous former political prisoner.
A spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) also questioned the timing of the latest mass pardon.
“It is strange that they released prisoners just before Obama’s visit,” Ohn Kyaing said.
“They should have done it before and showed their genuine will to give the amnesty,” he said.