The Myanmar junta released former religious affairs minister Thura Aung Ko from Yangon’s Insein Prison on Tuesday night in an amnesty ahead of the country’s January 4 Independence Day, according to a relative of the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) official.
The ex-general was among more than 7,000 prisoners who were said to have been freed in the move.
Aung Ko was arrested on February 1, 2021, the day of the military coup, along with several other members of the NLD’s cabinet. He was sentenced in March of last year to 12 years in prison for alleged corruption, an accusation that the military regime levied against many of the NLD’s top leaders—including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint—in an attempt to neutralise its political rivals.
On the same day that Aung Ko was sentenced, the military reduced his prison term by half.
While in custody in Insein, he was reportedly in poor health and required medical attention for anaemia and an enlargement of his heart.
A relative of the former government minister, who turned 75 on Wednesday, confirmed to Myanmar Now that as of Tuesday night he had returned to his family residence.
“I think he is feeling much better because he is back home now,” said the relative, who did not disclose further details regarding Aung Ko’s release.
Despite Aung Ko’s military background and his earlier role as a central executive committee member of the Union Solidarity and Development Party—the army’s political proxy—Aung Ko angered his fellow generals by backing the NLD’s calls for amendments to Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution.
He was also scorned by members of the military for his role in abolishing Ma Ba Tha, an ultranationalist group led by hate-preaching monk Wirathu, who was arrested in November 2020 during Aung Ko’s tenure as minister for religious affairs.
The junta said in a Wednesday announcement that it would free a total of 7,012 inmates from jails across the country for “the peace of mind of the public, being considerate of social circumstances, and in commemoration of the country’s Independence Day.”
Individuals convicted of charges related to terrorism, the use of explosives, unlawful association, corruption, murder or drugs would not be among those released, the junta said in state media.
According to local media reports, Than Myint Aung, who served as an NLD-appointed member of Yangon’s municipal committee, was also freed from Insein Prison, as was renowned author and former information officer for the NLD Htin Lin Oo. They were arrested on the day of the coup and sentenced to three years for incitement.
Several other anti-regime activists convicted of incitement by military-controlled courts were reportedly included in Wednesday’s amnesty, but Myanmar Now was unable to obtain further information about these individuals at the time of reporting.
Reporting by Han Thit and Sa Tun Aung.