Myanmar junta releases thousands of prisoners in New Year amnesty

Only a small fraction are political prisoners, advocates said.
By RFA Burmese
2024.04.17
Myanmar junta releases thousands of prisoners in New Year amnesty A prisoner is welcomed by family members and colleagues after she was released from Insein Prison in Yangon, April 17, 2024.
Thein Zaw/AP

Updated at 1:08 pm ET on April 17, 2024

Myanmar prisons nationwide released over 3,000 prisoners on Wednesday, according to junta-controlled media, but watchdog groups said that few of those freed were political prisoners.

Since the country’s 2021 coup, thousands of civilians have been arrested for donating to groups opposing the junta, protesting and speaking out against the military regime’s leaders. 

According to the junta’s media statement, reduced sentences were given “for the peace of mind of the people” and “social leniency” during the Burmese New Year Commemoration.

Prisoners were released under the condition that if they commit another crime, they will serve the remainder of their previous sentence as well as the sentence for their most recent crime, in accordance with the country’s Criminal Procedure Law, military-supported channels like MRTV continued. 

Prisoners’ family members have been waiting in front of Yangon region’s infamous Insein Prison since early on Wednesday morning, residents said. 

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A woman touches a bus carrying prisoners being released from Insein Prison in Yangon for the Buddhist New Year on April 17, 2024. (AFP)

The mother of a political prisoner waiting by Insein Prison on Wednesday said she hopes to see her son, who has been in prison for three years for defamation.

“The people in the prison said that prisoners like my son with a prison term of less than three years would be released, while prisoners with a long sentence would get a reduced prison term,” she said, declining to be named for security reasons. 

“That’s why I am waiting for my son. He was arrested and jailed when [junta forces] found revolutionary messages on his phone while checking the [ward’s] guest list that night,” she continued, referencing a housing registration system that has intensified since the junta took power.

Few political prisoners freed

However, like previous amnesties, which have been criticized as a false show of humanity from the junta in the past, only a small number of political prisoners will likely be released, said Thaik Tun Oo, a member of Political Prisoner Network-Myanmar.

“Even if there are political prisoners among the released, there will be a few well-known figures, a few political prisoners and there will be a lot of other people with criminal charges, just like the [junta] has done throughout the post-coup period,” he said. “We have even heard that there are no political prisoners released in some prisons. I think they may have difficulty releasing political prisoners after the recent military defeats,” he said, referring to military victories since last October by the Three Brotherhood Alliance and the Karen National Liberation Army.

Data released later on Wednesday by Political Prisoner Network-Myanmar showed that, among those released as part of the day's amnesty, around 90, or less than 3%, were political prisoners.

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Prisoners are welcomed by family members and colleagues after they were released from Insein Prison, April 17, 2024, in Yangon. (Thein Zaw/AP)

In Ayeyarwaddy region's Pathein Prison, for example, authorities released 45 prisoners as part of the amnesty, but sources familiar with the prison told RFA that only four of them were political prisoners.

RFA reached out to Khin Maung Kyi, the junta's minister of social affairs for Ayeyarwady region, for further details on the release, but received no response.

In addition to the more than 3,303 prisoners released nationwide on Wednesday, eight foreign prisoners who were jailed locally were released and deported, according to the military’s announcement.

Prior to Wednesday’s amnesty, the junta administration also released 9,652 prisoners on Jan. 4, 2024 for Burmese Independence Day, but few political prisoners were among them, according to advocates for those jailed under the military regime. 

According to the statements released by the junta, only 15 pardons were granted and a total of 95,000 prisoners have been released in more than three years since the coup.

 Translated by Kalyar Lwin. Edited by Kiana Duncan, Mike Firn and Joshua Lipes.

This story has been updated to include the latest figure for political prisoners released as part of the amnesty, as well as details of the release at Pathein Prison.

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