Myanmar grants amnesty to 8,500 prisoners

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The amnesty is the first taken under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership in the formerly military junta-run nation. Those released included 36 political prisoners on a rights watchdog list.

Myanmar on Monday announced an amnesty to more than 8,500 prisoners — including 51 foreigners and at least three dozen political prisoners. The action appeared to apply solely to convicted criminals rather than those waiting to be sentenced, suggesting the move is more of a presidential pardon than a blanket amnesty.

This was the first such action taken under President Win Myint, the proxy of National League for Democracy party leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The release of political prisoners was a priority for the party when it took over power from a military junta in 2016.

  • The action was taken to mark the country’s traditional New Year and to offer “humanitarian support,” according to the country’s deputy information minister.
  • The elderly, those in ill health, and drug offenders, were amongst those freed.
  • Some 6,000 detainees serving drugs-related sentences and nearly 2,000 military and police personnel were also released.
  • Thirty-six of those freed had been listed as political prisoners by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
  • Win Myint became president in March after his predecessor, Htin Kyaw, stepped down due to illness.

The AAPP welcomed and supported the release of political prisoners, however warned that under the presidential amnesty. “But there should not be a single political prisoner in a democratic country,” said the organization’s Myanmar representative Aung Myo Kyaw. “It will be better if remaining political prisoners and also those who are still facing charges were pardoned.” Suu Kyi said that releasing the remaining political prisoners was a top priority.

How many political prisoners are in Myanmar? At the end of last month, there were 248. Fifty-four of those were serving sentences, 74 awaiting trial inside prison and 120 on bail, according to AAPP figures.

Who will not be released?Two reporters from the Reuters news agency facing trial for possessing secret official documents were not included in the amnesty because of the ongoing legal proceedings. A pre-trial hearing in a Yangon court is scheduled for Friday. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will likely face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

Myanmar’s de-facto leader. Aung San Suu Kyi holds the title of state counselor, a position created for Suu Kyi following the 2016 election. She is constitutionally barred from serving as president because her two children are British, as was her late husband.

kw/ rc (AP, dpa)

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