Most of the more than 2,000 prisoners freed as part of an amnesty announced by Myanmar’s junta on Wednesday were already close to completing their sentences, according to observers.
The detainees, most of whom had been charged with incitement under Section 505a of the Penal Code, were among the thousands rounded up in the wake of anti-coup protests that broke out around the country more than two years ago.
The regime announced on Wednesday that a total of 2,153 prisoners would be released to mark the Buddhist Vesak holiday. However, prisoners were warned they would have to serve the rest of their sentences if they committed any further offence.
In addition, the sentences of 38 prisoners facing the death penalty were commuted to life in prison, state media reported.
Around the country, relatives of political detainees gathered in front of prisons to await their release following the military’s announcement.
While the news was welcomed by most, some observers noted that the amnesty did not significantly reduce the prison time served by the released inmates.
“The majority of the prisoners released in the amnesty were youths that have already almost completed their full sentences,” an experienced lawyer who has handled many political cases told Myanmar Now.
The lawyer also said that most of his own clients, including elected National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers and other officials from the ousted ruling party, were not among those allowed to go home today.
A former member of a student union who was released today said he also noticed that the amnesty did not apply to those facing more serious charges.
“The majority of the political prisoners charged with terrorism are still in prison. They only released the ones who have almost completed their sentences, and only on the condition that they must serve the rest of their sentences if they break the law again,” he said.
There were a number of journalists among those released today. They include Zaw Lin Htut, a freelance reporter who was arrested in December 2021, and Nyein Nyein Aye, a reporter arrested in January 2022. Both were serving three-year sentences under Section 505a of the Penal Code.
Zaw Tun, a freelance photographer who was arrested on December 10, 2021, while taking pictures of the Silent Strike held in Yangon to mark the International Day of Human Rights, was also released from the city’s Insein Prison today.
Soe Naing, another photographer arrested along with Zaw Tun, died in junta custody days after his arrest.
Sources claimed that more than 300 political prisoners were released from Insein Prison, but information about their identities was not available at the time of reporting.
There were also confirmed reports of multiple releases from Mandalay’s Obo Prison. Relatives said that detainees transferred from Obo to other prisons in Mandalay Region were also among the released.
According to a lawyer from Magway, more than 40 Section 505a political prisoners have also been released from Magway Prison. The majority were from Magway, Yenanchaung, Chauk and Natmauk townships, he said.
“There were not many ‘famous’ political figures among them. We only heard that over 40 were released, but we don’t have the exact list yet,” said the lawyer.
The state-controlled MRTV channel also reported the release of four prisoners from Thaton Prison in Mon State and 34 from Dawei Prison in Tanintharyi Region.
According to Tun Kyi, an executive committee member of the Former Political Prisoners Society, 46 prisoners have been released from Taung Thone Lone Prison in Shan State; 13 from Lashio Prison; 49 from Pyi Prison; and 14 from the Myeik Prison.
He added that 24 prisoners were originally slated to be released from Myeik Prison, but 10 were held back for unknown reasons.