"The installation of the Union Government in 2011 and the undertaking of initial reforms have raised the prospects for the resumption of a democratically elected civilian government in Burma after five decades of military rule. The release of Burma's political prisoners has a central role in U.S. policy and Burma's political future. Many of the U.S. sanctions on Burma were implemented after Burma's ruling military junta suppressed protests and detained many political prisoners. In addition, the removal of many of the existing U.S. sanctions requires the release of all political prisoners in Burma. Similarly, hopes for a democratic government in Burma--as well as national reconciliation-- would depend on the release of prisoners associated with the country's ethnic groups. Several ethnic-based political parties have stated they will not participate in parliamentary elections until their members are released from custody. Also, prospects for stable ceasefires and lasting peace with various ethnic-based militias may require the release of their members currently in detention. Estimates of how many political prisoners are being detained in Burma vary greatly. In November 2011, President Thein Sein stated that there are no political prisoners in Burma because everyone in detention had committed a crime. Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko told the press in January 2012 that 128 dissidents remain in detention. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP(B), a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and locating political prisoners in Burma, the Burmese government may have as many as 914 political prisoners in its 42 prisons and 109 labor camps scattered across the country."
CRS Report for Congress, R42363