Myanmar’s military government has started releasing more than 1,600 prisoners to mark the Southeast Asian nation’s traditional New Year festivities, but no political detainees have been freed despite the country’s ruling general promising to restore peace this year.
Among those imprisoned by the military are opposition party leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is held in the capital Naypyidaw, and her Australian economic policy adviser, Sean Turnell, who is in the notorious Insein Prison facility on the outskirts of Yangon.
Myanmar has been under military rule since February of last year, when the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 13,282 people have been arrested and 1,756 killed by the military since it launched its coup in February 2021, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group.
The military takeover has been met with massive resistance, which has since turned into what some United Nations experts have characterised as civil war.
“As part of the celebration of Myanmar’s New Year, to bring joy for the people and address humanitarian concerns,” Lieutenant General Aung Lin Dwe, a state secretary of the military government, said that “1,619 prisoners, including 42 detained foreigners, will be released under the amnesty”.
The foreign prisoners will be deported from Myanmar after their release, he wrote in a statement.
Myanmar Prisons Department Spokesman Khin Shwe said that those released were mostly drug offenders and petty criminals.
Political prisoners held as hostages
Relatives of hundreds of prisoners gathered outside Yangon’s Insein Prison on Sunday after the announcement was made, but many did not know if their relatives or loved ones would be released, according to a local reporter.
The mother of a 22-year-old pro-democracy protester arrested eight months ago said she was waiting after her son wrote to her and said he might be released in the amnesty.
Another mother, whose police officer son was arrested for participating in the civil disobedience movement against the military, said she had waited outside the prison several times during previous amnesty periods.