Junta says it will release some detainees in effort to curb spread of Covid-19 in prisons

Prisoners who were charged with criminal offenses before February 1 will soon be released as a measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the junta announced on Wednesday.

All criminal cases against those facing trial on 11 different charges, including gambling, drug-related offenses, and prostitution, will be dropped, according to the announcement.

The regime cited a backlog of court hearings due to Covid-19 restrictions as the reason for the move, which comes amid growing concern about the spread of the disease in the country’s overcrowded prisons.

It was unclear how many prisoners would be released under the order. No releases had been made as of late Wednesday, according to prison authorities.

“We can only release them if [the junta] dismisses the charges. When they do, we can release them right away,” said one prison officer contacted by Myanmar Now.

He added that the courts were likely still examining prisoner lists to determine who was eligible for release. 

“We can only release them when we get the release order. Because the detainees [who will be released] are not permanent inmates, we don’t have an exact number yet,” the officer said.

It was clear, however, that the order does not apply to opponents of the regime who have been detained since the military seized power on February 1.

“If they’re worried about prisoners getting Covid-19, shouldn’t they release everyone? Prostitutes and drug addicts are not the only ones affected by the pandemic,” said Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer who is part of the defence team for leaders of Myanmar’s ousted civilian government.

Some also expressed concern that the measure might result in a ramping up of arrests targeting those opposed to the junta’s rule.

“It makes me think that they are creating more space within the prisons so that they can detain more political activists opposing them,” said an official with the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) who asked to remain anonymous.

The regime has already released large number of prisoners since seizing power. On February 12, it announced a mass amnesty of more than 23,000 prisoners, and in April, it freed a similar number to mark the start of the Buddhist New Year.

The February release coincided with the start of mass protests against the military takeover and was seen by many as an attempt to create chaos, as many prisoners were released in the middle of the night in residential areas.

The regime has claimed in a recent statement that only six inmates of Insein Prison, the country’s largest detention centre, have contracted Covid-19 since the start of the third wave of the pandemic in early July, while a total of 375 cases have been detected in the country’s prison system over the same period.

Among the infected prisoners was Nyan Win, an executive member of the deposed ruling party, the National League for Democracy, who died on Tuesday morning after being transferred from Insein prison to Yangon General Hospital.

According to AAPP, more than 5,300 of those detained for anti-coup activities are still being held in Myanmar’s prisons.

Related Articles

Back to top button