Myanmar’s military-controlled government announced Thursday it was releasing nearly 6,000 prisoners under a broad amnesty.
Major General Zaw Min Tun, Myanmar junta’s spokesperson, confirmed to VOA Burmese the release of artists, activists, one minister, a top election commission official and one minister chief from the ousted Aung San Suu Kyi government, as well as four foreigners.
Among those being freed were Sean Turnell, an Australian economist and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, former British ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman and her Burmese artist husband, Htein Lin, U.S. citizen Kyaw Htay Oo and Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota. Zaw Min Tun also said the foreigners will be deported immediately.
Despite Thursday’s releases, there are still thousands of political prisoners remaining in detention, Mark Farmaner, executive director of Burma Campaign UK, told VOA.
“It’s very welcome to see these political prisoners have been released,” Farmaner said. “It's wonderful news for their families, but they should never have been in jail in the first place. And thousands and thousands of other political prisoners remain in the jail.”
On Wednesday, a day before the latest prisoner release, Burma Campaign UK published a statement saying that the number of detained political prisoners had reached more than 13,000 in Myanmar, a new record high.
The prisoner release comes during a week of intense Asia diplomacy, with world leaders convening in Phnom Penh for the ASEAN Summit, the G20 meetings in Bali and the APEC summit in Bangkok. Myanmar’s military leaders have been barred from the high-level gatherings.
ASEAN leaders released a statement at the end of their meeting saying they would consider reviewing Myanmar’s representation at future summits.
Farmaner said those meetings may have had an impact, particularly at ASEAN, and that the military is worried about ASEAN taking a stronger stance.
“They may be hoping that some of the ASEAN members more sympathetic to the military can use these releases to try to argue that soft engagement with the military is the way to go rather than expulsion or sanctions,” Farmaner said.
According to a Myanmar junta spokesperson, in total, 5,774 prisoners were released, including 712 people it described as political prisoners.
"It is the one bright spot in what is otherwise an incredibly dark time, where we see things going from bad to worse,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Bangkok while reacting to the developments.
Mya Aye, a prominent politician and one of the leaders of the ’88 Generation Students, as well as writer Maung Tha Cho and an anti-regime activist monk, Shwe Nyawa Sayadew were released from the Insein prison.
Also released were Kyaw Tint Swe, a minister of the ousted Aung San Suu Kyi government; Than Htay, a member of the Union Election Commission; and Lae Lae Maw, a chief minister of Tanintharyi Region.
News editor Than Htike Aung from Mizzima News Agency was released from Yamethin prison in Mandalay Region. He told VOA Burmese that he was released with only two months left on his two-year-long prison term.
Tun Kyi, spokesman for the Association for the Assistance of Political Victims (AAPP) told VOA Burmese that many of those released had nearly completed their prison terms.
“There is nothing to welcome and [thank] for releasing them now,” he said. “Releasing those who served prison terms is not in goodwill politically and viewed as doing it for their own good to ease tension at the international front.”
After the Myanmar’s military coup, from February 2021 to November 16, 2022, a total of 13,015 people were arrested and detained, and 1,648 people were sentenced to prison terms, according to AAPP.