Myanmar set free dozens of political prisoners Monday in an amnesty that coincided with the historic visit of President Barack Obama.
At least 44 political prisoners, including several prominent human rights activists, were among 66 detainees released, said former prisoner of conscience Soe Tun.
The amnesty order was announced by state television Sunday. It was the latest in a string of prisoner releases since the reformist government of President Thein Sein took office last year.
Among those freed was Myint Aye, 62, the director of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Organization who was serving a life sentence. Myint Aye said he and another prominent political detainee, Ye Zaw Htaik, were released from Loikaw Prison in Kayah state, northeast of Yangon.
"I was not put into prison because of any criminal act," he told The Associated Press. "I will continue with my human rights activities."
Myanmar's government has long insisted that all prisoners in the country are criminals and it still does not acknowledge the existence of political detainees. However, Thein Sein's administration has been steadily setting free political detainees, tucked into larger prisoner amnesties, as part of his reform agenda.
Earlier prisoner releases helped convince Western nations, including the United States, to ease sanctions they had imposed against the previous military regime.
Under the now-defunct junta, rights groups said more than 2,000 activists and government critics were wrongfully imprisoned. The opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi says at least 330 political prisoners remain incarcerated.
Obama said Sunday in Thailand that his visit to Myanmar is an acknowledgement of the democratic transition under way but not an endorsement of the country's government.
In a speech at the University of Yangon on Monday, Obama called for the release of all prisoners of conscience, saying that "a single political prisoner is one too many."