More than 5,600 prisoners to be released by Myanmar junta

World

More than 5,600 prisoners in Myanmar will be released by the military junta which seized power earlier this year.

Videos and pictures from the country showed tearful reunions as those who had been detained were reunited with their loved ones.

An announcement on state television said the move was part of an amnesty for those who protested against the coup earlier this year, in which the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi was deposed.

Pic: AP
Crowds waiting for people to be released
Image:
Crowds waiting for people to be released. Pic: AP

However, observers say the move was due to pressure put on the dictatorship by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Footage from Insein Prison, Yangon – formerly known as Rangoon – showed the tearful scenes.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Image:
Aung San Suu Kyi is still in prison

Bus-loads of people were taken outside the gates of the compound to waiting crowds, after the release was announced by state television.

It added that 1,316 convicts were freed and charges against 4,320 people were suspended.

More on Aung San Suu Kyi

Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar's armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing
Image:
Commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says that at least 9,043 people have been arrested since the coup, and 7,355 remained in detention when the amnesty was announced.

Ms Suu Kyi is still being held in detention.

Pic: AP
The outside of Insein prison in Yangon
Image:
The outside of Insein prison in Yangon. Pic: AP

After her government was toppled, there were extensive demonstrations in Myanmar against the new regime.

Estimates place the death toll in the wake of the takeover at around 1,000 – a figure the junta says is exaggerated.

ASEAN recently snubbed the junta by inviting a non-political representative from the country to the upcoming summit of the organisation, as opposed to a member of the government.

Analysis by Siobhan Robbins, south east Asia correspondent

Desperately waiting after months without news, the raw emotion on display shows you what today’s prisoner releases mean to families finally able to hug their loved ones.

Some simply disappeared without a word as relatives hunted for scraps of information to confirm if they were dead or alive.

While people across Myanmar celebrated the freedom of their fellow citizens, on social media many rejected any suggestion that they should be thankful to the military for its mercy.

Afterall, they argued, these peaceful protestors wouldn’t be in jail if the junta hadn’t seized power in February.

While this isn’t the first prisoner release since the coup, this does appear to be the largest amnesty for those directly involved in demonstrations against the military government.

The timing isn’t a coincidence. It comes just days after the junta leader was excluded from attending a summit by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The unprecedented rebuke follows the ASEAN special envoy cancelling a much delayed trip to the country after he was denied access to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others as he had requested.

This amnesty is a gesture by the junta to its neighbours paying lip service to a request to release all political prisoners at a time when it has done little to fulfil all of the five demands agreed by ASEAN in April.

For opponents this is just empty political power play.

There’s no sign high value prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi are about to be freed and in recent weeks armed conflict has been escalating.

Instead, today’s announcement was nothing more than “a form of distraction for foreign governments” according to monitoring group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).

In a country used to decades of military rule, political parlour tricks no longer work.

ASEAN laid out a five-point roadmap for Myanmar to follow, but made the decision to shun the current administration after they failed to commit to the plan.

In response, Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup in February, reiterated the junta’s own five-stage plan to restore democracy.

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