A Myanmar court on Friday freed 69 detained students in keeping with a pledge by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi the previous day that releasing the detainees was an urgent priority of the new government.
Most of those let go during the first round of releases were students who had been jailed for more than a year while awaiting trial for participating in a protest against national education policy in March 2015 in the central Myanmar town of Letpadan in Tharrawaddy district.
The initially peaceful demonstration had turned violent when students were beaten by police, resulting in the arrests of nearly 130 students and their supporters.
Tharrawaddy township judge Chit Myint said prosecutors decided to drop charges against all 72 detained activists, except for three of their leaders.
The trio—Phyo Phyo Aung, Min Thway Thit and Nanda Sitt Aung—are awaiting dismissals of similar charges by other courts in the commercial capital Yangon.
Mie Mie, an activist and prominent member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Group, also was released.
“Some students and our colleagues remain in jail,” said Min Thway Thit. “We are not happy enough as we still have to try to win their freedom. We will try together with our people to have no political prisoners in jails.”
About 12 other student prisoners must wait until their next scheduled hearing to find out whether they too will be freed, Agence France-Presse reported.
President Htin Kyaw is arranging another pardon for more than 100 people serving sentences for political crimes in honor of the Buddhist New Year holiday Thingyan, which begins Monday, according to Zaw Htay, spokesman for the President’s Office of which Aung San Suu Kyi is minister, Reuters reported.
Aung San Suu Kyi issued a statement on Friday, saying that officials must scrutinize the cases of jailed political prisoners and activists before releasing them.
Meanwhile, the government will ask the state prosecutor to drop charges against those still on trial, it said.
Nearly 350 political prisoners remain in jail or on bail while they await trials.
Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest, and several current lawmakers from the National League of Democracy (NLD) party, which she chairs, have served time behind bars.
Though she cannot become president because of a constitutional provision barring anyone with foreign-born relatives from holding the nation’s top office, Aung San Suu Kyi has vowed to rule Myanmar from a position above the president.
Two activists sentenced
While most of the detained students gained their freedom, two other activists each received a two-year sentence from a court Mandalay’s Chanayethazan township on Friday for their connections to an armed rebel group that has been engaged in hostilities with the national army.
Muslim interfaith activists Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt were charged with associating with an unlawful organization because of their links to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the military branch of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) political group that has clashed with the Myanmar army in the northern part of the country.
“We were sentenced because we went to the KIA area and helped refugees,” Zaw Zaw Latt told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The Unlawful Associations Act under which they were sentenced should be abolished because it was issued by the former British rulers of what was then known as Burma during the colonial era, he said.
“We have been sentenced because we met with the KIA,” he said. “During the previous government’s term, the MPC [Myanmar Peace Center] met with armed ethnic groups that it could charge for connection with these groups. Even the [MPC] minister had the right to see these groups, so why didn’t other people who were with these ministers get arrested?”
The government-affiliated MPC in Yangon has facilitated peace talks between Myanmar’s government and various ethnic rebel groups.
Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt had been arrested for posting photos on social media of a visit to India’s Mizoram state in 2014 and a charity trip to Kachin state, according to the online journal The Irrawaddy.
One photo showed Zaw Zaw Latt with a rifle as he met with some KIA members during a visit to a displaced people’s camp in the region in 2013, the report said.
The two, along with another colleague, Zaw Win Bo, were sentenced earlier to two years in prison in February under Myanmar’s immigration act, it said.
The pair will not submit an appeal, Pwint Phyu Latt told The Irrawaddy, because they believe that the NLD-led government will soon abolish the Unlawful Associations Act.
The KIO/KIA did not sign a nationwide peace agreement that the previous government inked with eight armed ethnic groups to end decades of civil wars in the country.
Reported by Kyaw Zaw Win and Set Paing Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.