Myanmar military’s New Year amnesty
April 18, 2023

Move to release prisoners welcomed by human rights groups, who have called for an end to crackdown on dissent in Myanmar

In a surprise move, the Myanmar (formerly Burma) military announced plans to release over 3,000 prisoners, including 98 foreigners, to commemorate the country’s traditional New Year. Despite facing international condemnation for its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests and the incarceration of thousands of activists and opponents, the military has not clarified whether political prisoners will be among those released.

The military has incarcerated thousands of opponents and pro-democracy activists since seizing power and brutally suppressing protests, resulting in the deaths of about 3,240 civilians, according to activists.

The amnesty is seen as a celebration of Myanmar’s New Year to bring joy to the people and address humanitarian issues, according to Lieutenant General Aung Lin Dwe, a military spokesman. He stated that reoffenders will have to serve the remainder of their sentence with an additional penalty.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group, claims that at least 17,460 people arrested for opposing the coup are still in detention, including toppled leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and opposition figurehead to military rule, who is serving a 33-year prison sentence. The military has also imprisoned other senior members of its civilian government, which the military overthrew in the 2021 coup.

Although the military periodically pardons prisoners, the number of prisoners released this year and in 2022 has been a fraction of the 23,000 released during the same Buddhist holiday in 2021.

The move has been welcomed by human rights groups, who have been calling for the release of prisoners and an end to the crackdown on dissent in the country. However, some activists have expressed skepticism about the junta’s motives, suggesting that the amnesty may be an attempt to deflect attention from the ongoing human rights abuses.

It remains to be seen whether the amnesty will lead to any easing of tensions in Myanmar, or whether it is simply a temporary gesture by the junta to placate its critics. For now, however, it provides some hope for the prisoners who have been released, and for their families who have been campaigning for their freedom.

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