(Mizzima) – Burmese state-run television has announced a prisoner amnesty to take place on Friday involving 651 prisoners.
The number is very close to the number of political prisoners held by the government, according to a survey done by the National League for Democracy (NLD).
“I hope most of political prisoners will be included in the prisoners who will be released this time. The difference between the government’s number  and the number compiled by the NLD is about 100,” a NLD member said.
State television said on Thursday that President Thein Sein would grant the amnesty with the intention that all people can take part in working for the stability of the state to establish peace, national reconciliation and take part in political processes.
If the bulk of the prisoners’ granted amnesty qualify as political prisoners, it would go a long way to satisfying the key demand of democratic governments which have long called for the release of all political prisoners as a condition for improved relations.
Ma Nu, an 88-generation student group member, said he hoped that 88-generation student political prisoners would be released under the presidential order.
“I think many our friends will be freed,” he said. “We still don’t know who will be on the list. I think most of the political prisoners will be released.”
Some observers said that 88-generation student leader Min Ko Naing and blogger Nay Phone Latt would be included in the political prisoners to be released under the amnesty.
According to the Constitution, the president can grant amnesty only with the recommendation of the National Defence and Security Council.
On January 2, more than 1,400 prisoners including 34 political prisoners were released under a presidential commutation order.
The commutation of sentences was met with widespread disappointment that more political prisoners were not included.
High profile 88-Generation student leaders, NLD leaders and ethnic leaders who were sentenced to 65 years in prison or more were not among those released.
The Network for Families of Political Prisoners issued a statement saying a presidential commutation that failed to give political prisoners’ leaders freedom was “dishonest” and urged the government to unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience in order to achieve national reconciliation.
The government on October 12, 2010, released 7,500 convicts, including at least 240 known political prisoners. According to the Association for Political Prisoners – Burma, about 2,100 people were imprisoned for political reasons by the junta that ruled Burma between 1988 and 2010.
The exact number of political prisoners held in jails now is hard to determine because Burma does not acknowledge it has political prisoners and its overall lack of transparency. The NLD places the figure at below 600. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma puts the figure at around 1,500.
Political detainees include journalists, pro-democracy activists, government critics, monks involved in anti-government protests and members of Burma's ethnic groups.