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Myanmar’s junta to release more than 3,000 prisoners

UPDATED AT 06:45 a.m. ET on 2023-04-17

Myanmar’s junta plans to release 3,015 prisoners, according to a statement carried on the pro-military channel Myanmar Radio and Television.

Other junta statements Monday said 98 foreigners, including five Sri Lankans being held in Yangon’s Insein prison, were among those set to be released as part of the New Year’s amnesty. 

Relatives of other prisoners waited outside Insein on Monday morning as yellow buses carried freed prisoners out of the notorious prison.

It was not immediately clear how many political prisoners were among those granted amnesty.

“If any political prisoners have been released it is obviously good news for them and their families, but there are still thousands of political prisoners in jail. None of them should be in prison,” Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK told RFA. “The international community must not forget Burma’s political prisoners.

Among those detained in the more than two years since the coup are Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson of the National League for Democracy, who is serving a total of 33 years in prison. The NLD — dissolved by the junta last month — won a landslide victory in the 2020 general election and many senior members were arrested on trumped-up charges in the days and months following the coup.

Others being held for ‘political’ crimes include civil disobedience movement teachers, students, doctors and nurses, and also members and supporters of People’s Defense Forces.

The junta has arrested more than 21,300 political prisoners since seizing power in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup, according to the Thailand-based monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Of that number, it says 17,460 are still being held in prisons across the country.

This year’s amnesty is almost double the size of 2022’s, when the junta pardoned 1,619 people, most of whom were said to be jailed for drug and immigration offenses.

Junta State Administration Council Secretary Lt. Gen. Aung Lin Dwe said Monday’s amnesty was intended to “bring joy for the people and address humanitarian concerns.” It is likely to do neither.

Last week, ASEAN joined humanitarian groups in condemning the junta for staging probably its most brutal massacre in the more than two years since the coup.

At least 165 people were killed, many women and children among them, when junta jets bombed the opening ceremony of a village administrative building in Sagaing region, while helicopter gunships cut down those trying to flee.

“We need to see stronger international action to support people in Burma and to cut off sources of funds and arms to the military, including sanctions on the supply of aviation fuel to help stop the devastating military airstrikes, like the attack in Sagaing region last week,” Burma Campaign UK’s Anna Roberts said.

Anti-junta People’s Defense Forces have warned people not to celebrate the Thingyan water festival and New Year, bombing junta-built Thingyan pavilions across the country, killing eight people in Sagaing region and four in Shan state.

Story updated to include comments from Burma Campaign UK.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.