Wednesday, Myanmar’s governing military council announced the release of over 2,100 political prisoners as a humanitarian gesture. Thousands more remain imprisoned on charges generally related to nonviolent protests or criticism of military rule, which began when the army usurped power in February 2021 from Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government.
State-run Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, chairman of Myanmar’s military council, reportedly pardoned 2,153 prisoners on the most important Buddhist holy day of the year, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha.
The releases began on Wednesday, but completion could take several days. The identities of those released were not immediately available, but they would not include Suu Kyi, who is currently serving a 33-year prison sentence for more than a dozen charges her supporters claim were fabricated by the military.
The amnesty frees almost 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar.
According to an official announcement on state media, all of the Wednesday pardoned prisoners had been convicted under a section of Myanmar’s penal code that makes it a crime to spread comments that cause public unrest or fear, or to spread false news, and carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
The provisions of the pardon stipulate that if the formerly incarcerated individuals violate the law again, they must serve the remainder of their original sentences in addition to any new term imposed for the new offense.
In Myanmar, mass prisoner releases are common during significant holidays. The last time so many political prisoners were released simultaneously was in July 2021, when 2,296 prisoners were released.
Several high-profile political prisoners, including an Australian academic, a Japanese filmmaker, an ex-British diplomat, and an American, were released in November of last year as part of a broad prisoner amnesty that also freed many local citizens detained for protesting the army occupation.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported on Tuesday that 17,897 individuals detained since the 2021 military coup remained in custody. The organization retains meticulous records of arrests and casualties associated with the military government’s repression.
The release of prisoners appears to be an endeavor by the repressive military government to improve its image as a major violator of human rights.
After a surprise meeting with Min Aung Hlaing last week, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Myanmar’s military to take the initiative in resolving the country’s violent political crisis, including the release of political detainees.
Over 2,100 political prisoners in Myanmar are released due to a pardon.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Ban affirmed that he “supported the international community’s calls for the immediate release by the Myanmar military of all arbitrarily detained prisoners, for constructive dialogue, and for the utmost restraint from all parties.”
The amnesty also occurred a day after Min Aung Hlaing conferred with the visiting Chinese foreign minister, whose country has provided crucial support to his regime ever since it seized power.
MRTV reported on Tuesday that Qin Gang met with Min Aung Hlaing and other senior officials in the capital, Naypyitaw, to discuss bilateral relations, Myanmar’s political situation, and the conditions necessary for its stability and development.
China has strategic geopolitical and economic interests in Myanmar, its southern neighbor, and is one of the few large nations to maintain good relations with Myanmar’s military government, which is shunned and sanctioned by many Western nations for its violent repression of its opponents.
Since the army took control, Myanmar has been in turmoil. Its takeover prompted peaceful demonstrations that were violently suppressed by security forces. Since then, violence has escalated due to the rise of armed resistance across the nation and massive military efforts to suppress it.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, as of Tuesday, 3,452 civilians had been slain by security forces since the military takeover.