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Surge in political prisoners despite release of four journalists

Four Burmese journalists have been released from prison after Burma's military government announced on state-run television, on 17 September, that it will give amnesty to 7,114 prisoners. But there was no mention of the more than 2,200 political prisoners still languishing in prisons all over the country, reports Mizzima News. This came a day after Human Rights Watch released a report saying the junta has more than doubled the number of political prisoners in the past two years, including more than 100 in recent months.

Eint Khaing Oo, editor of "Ecovision Journal" and Kyaw Kyaw Thant, assistant editor of "Weekly Eleven Journal", were freed from Insein prison on 18 September, says Mizzima. They were arrested for reporting about victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma in May 2008. Thet Zin, alias Maung Zin, editor of "Myanmar Nation Weekly", and Aung Thwin, alias Aung Kyi, former editor of "90 Minutes Journal", were also freed.

Zin was arrested in February 2008 for possessing: a video of a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September of the previous year; and a report by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, say Mizzima and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA). Both Zin and Thwin were arrested while covering the march of 30 victims of Cyclone Nargis to the United Nations office in Rangoon, to request aid.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Monywa Aung Shin, a poet who worked as a journalist for the magazine "Sar Maw Khung" and former member of the opposition National League for Democracy was released as well. Shin had been held since September 2000.

"The Irrawaddy" magazine links the amnesty to Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein's visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly this week.

"Burma's generals are planning elections next year that will be a sham if their opponents are in prison," said Human Rights Watch. "Despite recent conciliatory visits by UN and foreign officials, the military government is actually increasing the number of critics it is throwing into its squalid prisons."

According to Human Rights Watch, there was large-scale repression after the popular uprising, led in part by monks, in August and September 2007 was quashed by the government. Closed courts and courts inside prisons have held unjust trials and sentenced more than 300 political figures, human rights defenders, labour activists, artists, journalists, comedians, Internet bloggers, and Buddhist monks and nuns to excessive prison terms - some for more than 100 years. The activists were mainly charged under Burma's archaic penal code that criminalises free expression, peaceful demonstration and forming of independent organisations.

Eint Khaing Oo was awarded the Alicia Patterson Foundation (APF) and Burma Media Association's (BMA) Kenji Nagai Press Freedom Prize, named after Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai who was killed by a soldier during the September 2007 protests, report Mizzima, SEAPA and RSF.

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