Myanmar’s Military Government Pardons 10,000 Prisoners to Mark Independence Day

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Myanmar's Deputy Chairman of State Administration Council, Vice Senior Gen. Soe Win, speaks during a ceremony marking Myanmar's 76th anniversary of Independence Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, 4 January 2024. (Photo: AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military government on 4 January pardoned nearly 10,000 prisoners to mark the 76th anniversary of gaining independence from Britain, but they apparently included just a small proportion of the thousands of political detainees jailed for opposing army rule.

The head of Myanmar’s military council, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, pardoned 9,652 prisoners to mark the holiday, state-run MRTV television reported.

The prisoner releases began Thursday and are expected to take several days to complete. At Insein Prison in Yangon, notorious for decades for housing political detainees, relatives of prisoners gathered at the gates in the early morning.

Nearly 3,000 prisoners were being freed from there, including some political detainees, some of those granted pardons told journalists. No comprehensive list of those freed is available.

A lawyer who has represented many political prisoners told The Associated Press that most of those released across the country had been convicted of common criminal offenses and only about 120 were political prisoners. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being arrested by the military.

He also said Ye Lwin, the popular former mayor of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, was among those freed. Ye Lwin was handed a two-year sentence in 2021 for sedition and another two-year sentence in 2023 on a charge of misappropriating state property. The military government has typically filed corruption charges against popular civilian politicians who have been convicted in trials widely criticized as unfair.

Among the first group freed from Insein Prison was Kaung Sett Lin, a photojournalist from the online Myanmar Pressphoto Agency.

Kaung Sett Lin and a colleague were arrested along with nine protesters in December 2021 after an army vehicle plowed into a peaceful flash mob demonstration in Yangon against military rule. He received a three-year prison sentence for incitement a year later.

He said all he had wished for was to return to his mother, but she died eight months ago. “I just want my mom back,” Kaung Sett Lin told journalists.

There was no sign that the prisoner release would include Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held virtually incommunicado by the military since it seized power from her elected government in February 2021.

The 78-year-old Suu Kyi is serving 27 years of imprisonment after being convicted of a series of politically tinged prosecutions brought by the military. The charges on which she was convicted include illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, election fraud, corruption, violating coronavirus restrictions, sedition, and breaching the Official Secrets Act.

Her supporters and independent analysts say the cases against her are an attempt to discredit her and legitimize the military’s seizure of power while keeping her from taking part in the military’s promised election, for which no date has yet been set.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights monitoring organization, 25,730 people have been arrested on political charges since the army takeover.

Of those arrested, 19,930 people were still in detention as of Wednesday, AAPP reported. At least 4,277 civilians, including pro-democracy activists, have been killed by security forces in the same period, the group says.

Most of those detained are being held on incitement charges for allegedly causing fear, spreading false news, or agitating against government employees.

Min Aung Hlaing also granted amnesty to 114 jailed foreigners who will be deported, MRTV said in a separate report.

Mass prisoner releases are common on major holidays in Southeast Asian nations.

Myanmar became a British colony in the late 19th century and regained its independence on 4 January 1948.