Relatives gather around a bus carrying prisoners being released outside Insein Prison in Yangon on Nov. 17, 2022. / The Irrawaddy
Myanmar’s military regime released some political prisoners including a minister from the country’s ousted National League for Democracy (NLD), the party’s spokesperson, a former student leader and an anti-regime activist Buddhist monk among almost 6,000 prisoners granted amnesty on Thursday.
Ko Mya Aye, one of the leaders of the ’88 Generation Students group, was released from Yangon’s Insein Prison along with the NLD’s spokesperson Dr. Myo Nyunt. Both were arrested by the regime on the first day of the coup on Feb. 1 last year.
Writer Maung Tha Cho, who is known for his satirical pieces criticizing the Myanmar military before the coup, and Shwe Nyawa Sayadaw, an anti-regime Buddhist monk, were among those freed from the same prison.
Also released was U Kyaw Tint Swe, a former Union minister for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Office of the State Counselor; U Than Htay, a former member of the Union Election Commission; and Daw Lae Lae Maw, a former chief minister of Tanintharyi Region who was jailed for 30 years for corruption in 2020 under the NLD government, state media announced.
The pardon also saw the releases of detained high-profile foreigners Sean Turnell, an Australian economist and former adviser to now detained Myanmar democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; former British envoy Vicky Bowman and her Myanmar husband; and Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota. The regime said they will be deported on Thursday afternoon.
The regime’s state media said the mass amnesty announced on Thursday was to mark the country’s National Day.
The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), a local advocacy group for prisoners’ rights, told The Irrawaddy it had recorded the release of 52 political prisoners from the regime’s prisons in Yangon, Bago and Mandalay regions as of Thursday afternoon.
Myanmar has been in social and political turmoil since the military staged a coup in February last year, arresting civilian leaders including the country’s President U Win Myint and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in early morning raids.
The coup sparked widespread protests that met with deadly crackdowns, leading to the arrests of thousands and helping fuel popular armed resistance across the country.
The AAPP said the regime has arrested 16,232 people since the takeover and 13,015 were in detention as of Wednesday. The regime has killed more than 2,400 people since the takeover.
The international community including the US and EU have responded to the junta’s bloody crackdowns on protesters and arrests with a series of sanctions against the regime’s leadership and their associates while calling for the release of all political prisoners.
At the gate of Yangon’s Insein Prison on Thursday, family members waited excitedly under an unseasonal downpour as a series of buses with newly released inmates onboard drove out.
The just released NLD spokesperson Dr. Myo Nyunt shouted from the bus’s window to the gathering crowd: “The release is good for me but I still want something good for the country.”
Ko Mya Aye, a leader of the ’88 Generation Students group, said “I will be with the people of Myanmar.”
AAPP Joint Secretary Ko Bo Kyi said the regime’s amnesty today was an old trick used by successive juntas whenever they face international pressure. Currently the regime is under pressure not only from Western democracies but also from regional groups like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member.
The joint secretary said he wasn’t thrilled by the amnesty, pointing out that it wouldn’t make any difference for Myanmar as there are many other political prisoners remaining inside jails while the arrest of political dissidents continues. He stressed that the international community should be aware that Thursday’s amnesty was not enough.
“The regime has to release all [political prisoners] unconditionally, including President U Win Myint and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. To make it happen, the world has to keep pressuring the junta,” he said.