Pres­i­dent grants mass jail amnesty

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

YAN­GON: Myan­mar Pres­i­dent Win Myint has granted an amnesty to more than 8,500 pris­on­ers, re­port­edly in­clud­ing at least three dozen po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers.

The amnesty, an­nounced yes­ter­day, co­in­cided with Myan­mar’s tra­di­tional New Year. It was granted to 8,490 Myan­mar cit­i­zens and 51 for­eign­ers.

Pres­i­den­tial spokesman Zaw Thay said those re­leased in­cluded the aged, peo­ple in ill health and drug of­fend­ers. It also said 36 of those to be freed had been listed as po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers by the in­de­pen­dent As­sis­tance As­so­ci­a­tion for Po­lit­i­cal Pris­on­ers.

The re­leases were to take place at pris­ons na­tion­wide. Rel­a­tives and friends of those held waited out­side the gates at In­sein Prison, in the north­ern out­skirts of Yan­gon, where it was ex­pected that more than 300 pris­on­ers, in­clud­ing eight po­lit­i­cal de­tainees, would be re­leased.

Al­though called an amnesty, the ac­tion ap­peared to ac­tu­ally be a mass par­don, mean­ing it would cover only pris­on­ers who had al­ready been con­victed of crimes. Two Reuters re­porters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, fac­ing a high-pro­file free­dom of the press trial for pos­sess­ing se­cret doc­u­ments would not be cov­ered un­der the ac­tion.

One of the jour­nal­ists’ lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said his un­der­stand­ing was that the pres­i­dent was only par­don­ing con­victed crim­i­nals.

“So, since the two re­porters have not been sen­tenced for prison terms, we don’t know if they will be part of the re­lease. If this was an amnesty, then it’s pos­si­ble that they might be part of the list,’’ he said.

Bo Kyi, sec­re­tary of the Thai­land-based As­sis­tance As­so­ci­a­tion for Po­lit­i­cal Pris­on­ers, said the group was wait­ing to con­firm the re­leases.

“We don’t know ex­actly if all 36 po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers will be re­leased or not, and that’s why the fam­ily mem­bers are wait­ing out­side the prison,’’ he said.

The group, which mon­i­tors the in­car­cer­a­tion of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, says that 54 are cur­rently serv­ing prison terms af­ter be­ing con­victed, 74 are in de­ten­tion await­ing trial, and an­other 120 are await­ing trial but are not de­tained.

Win Myint be­came pres­i­dent last month, af­ter his pre­de­ces­sor, Htin Kyaw, stepped down be­cause of ill­ness.

The Face­book page of Deputy In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Aung Hla Tun said the pres­i­den­tial ac­tion was taken “as a ges­ture of mark­ing the Myan­mar New Year and af­ter tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the preva­lence of peace of mind among the peo­ple, hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cerns and friendly re­la­tions among na­tions.’’

The re­lease of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers was a pri­or­ity of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Na­tional League for Democ­racy Party when it took over power from a pro-mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment in March 2016.

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