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Myanmar’s president grants amnesty to over 8,500 prisoners

/ 01:23 PM April 17, 2018

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar President Win Myint has granted amnesty to more than 8,500 prisoners, reportedly including at least three dozens political detainees.

The amnesty, announced on Tuesday, coincided with Myanmar’s traditional New Year. It was granted to 8,490 Myanmar citizens and 51 foreigners. A statement from presidential spokesman Zaw Thay said those released included the aged, people in ill health, and drug offenders. None was individually named.

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It also said 36 of those to be freed had been listed as political prisoners by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The releases were to take place at prisons nationwide.

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Also on Tuesday, relatives and friends of those held waited outside the gates of Insein Prison in the northern outskirts of Yangon, where it was expected that more than 300 prisoners, including eight political detainees, would be released.

Although called an amnesty, the action appeared to actually be a mass pardon, meaning it would cover only prisoners who had already been convicted of crimes. Two reporters of Reuters – Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – facing a high-profile freedom of the press trial for possessing secret official documents would not be covered under the action.

One of the journalists’ lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said his understanding was that the president was only pardoning convicted criminals.

“So, since the two reporters have not been sentenced for prison terms, we don’t know if they will be part of the release. If this was an amnesty, then it’s possible that they might be part of the list,” he told The Associated Press.

Bo Kyi, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said the group was waiting to confirm the releases.

“We don’t know exactly if all 36 political prisoners will be released or not, and that’s why the family members are waiting outside of the prison,” he said.

The group, which has extensive experience in monitoring the incarceration of political prisoners, said 54 are currently serving prison terms after being convicted, 74 are in detention awaiting trial, and another 120 are awaiting trial but are not detained.

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Win Myint became president in March after his predecessor, Htin Kyaw, stepped down because of illness.

The Facebook page of Deputy Information Minister Aung Hla Tun said the presidential action was taken “as a gesture of marking the Myanmar New Year and after taking into consideration the prevalence of peace of mind among the people, humanitarian concerns and friendly relations among nations.”

The release of political prisoners was a priority of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party when it took over power from a pro-military government in March 2016. Suu Kyi is the country’s de facto leader, holding the specially created post of State Counselor.

Under the country’s Constitution, Suu Kyi cannot serve as president because her two children are British, as was her late husband.

When Suu Kyi’s government took power in 2016, it made it a priority to release political prisoners detained during military rule, freeing almost 200 within a month.

However, critics of Suu Kyi’s government said it also has pursued politically motivated prosecutions such as cases against land rights activists and journalists.                        /kga

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TAGS: Amnesty, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar, political detainees, President Win Myint, Prison
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