Myanmar junta to free 3,000 prisoners in Buddhist New Year amnesty

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Prisoners released from Insein Prison are welcomed by their colleagues and family members in Yangon, Myanmar Monday, April 17, 2023.

Prisoners released from Insein Prison are welcomed by their colleagues and family members in Yangon, Myanmar Monday, April 17, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

Myanmar’s junta on Monday, April 17, 2023, began releasing more than 3,000 prisoners to mark the Buddhist New Year, without specifying whether those jailed in its bloody crackdown on dissent would be freed.

The military has arrested thousands since its coup more than two years ago, which plunged the country into turmoil and sparked widespread clashes with anti-coup fighters.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing “pardoned 3,015 prisoners… to mark Myanmar New Year, for the peaceful mind of the people and on humanitarian grounds”, the junta’s information team said in a statement.

Those who re-offend would have to serve the remainder of their sentence with an additional penalty, the statement said.

It did not say whether anti-junta protesters or journalists jailed covering the coup and its aftermath would be among those freed.

A further 98 foreigners serving sentences in Myanmar would also be pardoned and freed, according to a separate junta statement that did not provide details.

Around 100 people gathered outside Insein prison in commercial hub Yangon after the announcement, hoping their friends and loved ones would be included in the amnesty.

Win Win Htay said her younger brother had been jailed for four months after police stopped him at a checkpoint and found a small knife on his keychain.

“I hope he will be released today,” she told AFP as she waited outside the prison.

Two yellow buses later pulled out from the prison compound, with some in the waiting crowd waving and calling to those inside.

Shortly after its coup, the junta released around 23,000 prisoners, with some rights groups at the time fearing the move was to free up space for opponents of the military as well as to cause chaos in communities.

The country typically grants an amnesty to thousands of prisoners to mark its traditional Buddhist New Year holiday — which in previous years was a joyous affair.

But this year, streets in many major cities were silent in boycott after a military air strike on a village in a resistance hotspot that media and locals said killed more than 170 people.

More than 21,000 people have been arrested since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in February 2021, according to a local monitoring group.

Suu Kyi has been detained since the early hours of the coup.

In December, the junta wrapped up a series of closed-court trials of the 77-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, jailing her for a total of 33 years in a process rights groups have condemned as a sham.

At least 170 journalists have been arrested since the putsch, according to the United Nations.

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