The government of Myanmar [JURIST news archive] on Monday began releasing a number of political prisoners at the same time US President Barack Obama [official website] arrived for a historic visit to the former dictatorship. Specifically, 66 prisoners were to be freed [Reuters report] in conjunction with the first trip to the country made by any sitting US president. While two-thirds of the prisoners were merely political dissidents, the remaining third was supposedly composed of former military intelligence personnel. The prisoners' release comes less than a week after Myanmar announced that it had freed 452 others [JURIST report] on humanitarian grounds and as a goodwill gesture by the nation.
Concern over Myanmar's human rights record has been growing recently. Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged the government of Myanmar to do more to end sectarian violence [JURIST report] between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. In August, Physicians for Human Rights reported that Myanmar's army is still committing human rights abuses [JURIST report] against ethnic minorities in Karen state. Earlier in August, HRW accused Myanmar security forces of human rights abuses [JURIST report] against a minority religious community. In July, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] also expressed concern [JURIST report] about both the continued violence in Myanmar and the country's human rights abuses committed in dealing with it.