The Myanmar military announced a clemency for imprisoned civilian leaders State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint on Tuesday.
Both democratically elected leaders have been incarcerated since the February 2021 coup, with Suu Kyi having been convicted of 19 offences carrying a total prison sentence of 33 years, and Win Myint handed a 12-year prison term after conviction on eight charges.
The clemency will not pardon Suu Kyi and Win Myint for all of the alleged offences, but merely reduce their sentences. Suu Kyi has been pardoned of a total of five charges filed in 2021, including incitement, two breaches of Covid-19 restrictions—one during a 2020 election campaign rally and the other during a visit to party supporters—and two charges relating to the possession of unlicensed communications equipment. Win Myint has had the remaining sentences for two of his charges reduced: one for incitement, and the other for a breach of Covid-19 restrictions during the aforementioned rally.
As a result of the commutations, Suu Kyi will have six years wiped from her prison sentence, leaving 27 years to be served, while Win Myint will have his sentence reduced by four years, leaving eight to be served.
Suu Kyi’s lawyers are currently appealing all 19 of her convictions in the junta-controlled Supreme Court, with hearings for two of those having taken place in early July. Her most recent spate of convictions was in December 2022, in relation to charges that included the rental, maintenance, and purchase of a helicopter for disaster purposes during the administration of her National League for Democracy government. Other charges for which she is convicted include election fraud and various allegations of corruption.
Tuesday was not the first time that the coup regime has reduced the prison sentences of the incarcerated leaders. In December 2021, the junta halved the pair’s four-year terms for incitement and the violation of Covid-19 public health restrictions. At that time, both Suu Kyi and Win Myint were being held in undisclosed locations and had not yet been transferred to prison.
In a statement announcing the commutations of prison sentences for the two civilian leaders and nearly 7,750 prisoners, the junta cited Section 401(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that the president can “remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which the (individual) has been sentenced.”
The move came one day after the coup regime renewed the state of emergency for a further six months, the fourth extension since the military seized power from the elected civilian government led by Suu Kyi. It also coincided with the regime’s consecration of a giant Buddha image on Tuesday, which is a Buddhist holiday.
In addition to the total of 7,749 prisoners pardoned, 22 jailed individuals who are members of ethnic armed organisations and 125 foreign inmates were also granted remission of their sentences.
The military further announced that “certain” inmates on death row would have their sentences changed to life imprisonment. As of July 31, 2023, there were a total of 115 prisoners on death row sentenced after the 2021 coup in Myanmar, according to monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Statements on the inmates’ releases signed by military council secretary Lt-Gen Aung Lin Dwe said the act was intended “to bring peace of mind” and was carried out “in consideration of humanitarian concerns” on the sacred religious occasion.
The clemency towards Suu Kyi and President Win Myint is seen as a symbolic conciliatory gesture by the military regime, which has recently conducted summary executions of political prisoners and ongoing, indiscriminate aerial bombings in regions where it has been grappling with armed resistance movements challenging its rule.
Responding to prior speculation that Suu Kyi would be moved to home confinement in a government housing facility in Naypyitaw, military spokesperson Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun told a local media outlet, “I have not heard anything about it.”