Myanmar junta releases thousands of prisoners in New Year amnesty

Myanmar prisons nationwide released over 3,000 prisoners on Wednesday, according to junta-controlled media.

Since the country’s 2021 coup, thousands of civilians have been arrested for donating to groups opposing the junta, protesting and speaking out against the military regime’s leaders. 

According to the junta’s media statement, reduced sentences were given “for the peace of mind of the people” and “social leniency” during the Burmese New Year Commemoration.

Prisoners were released under the condition that if they commit another crime, they will serve the remainder of their previous sentence as well as the sentence for their most recent crime, in accordance with the country’s Criminal Procedure Law, military-supported channels like MRTV continued. 

Prisoners’ family members have been waiting in front of Yangon region’s infamous Insein Prison since early on Wednesday morning, residents said. 

Family members waiting in front of Insein Prison in Yangon region on April 17, 2024. (RFA)

The mother of a political prisoner waiting by Insein Prison on Wednesday said she hopes to see her son, who has been in prison for three years for defamation.

“The people in the prison said that prisoners like my son with a prison term of less than three years would be released, while prisoners with a long sentence would get a reduced prison term,” she said, declining to be named for security reasons. 

“That’s why I am waiting for my son. He was arrested and jailed when [junta forces] found revolutionary messages on his phone while checking the [ward’s] guest list that night,” she continued, referencing a housing registration system that has intensified since the junta took power.

However, like previous amnesties, which have been criticized as a false show of humanity from the junta in the past, only a small number of political prisoners will likely be released, said Thaik Tun Oo, a member of Political Prisoner Network-Myanmar.

“Even if there are political prisoners among the released, there will be a few well-known figures, a few political prisoners and there will be a lot of other people with criminal charges, just like the [junta] has done throughout the post-coup period,” he said “As far as we have found out, we have even heard that there are no political prisoners released in some prisons. I think they may have difficulty releasing political prisoners after the recent military defeats,” he said, referring to military victories since last October by the Three Brotherhood Alliance and the Karen National Liberation Army.

In addition to the more than 3,303 prisoners, eight foreign prisoners who were jailed locally were released and deported, according to the military’s announcement.

Prior to Wednesday’s amnesty, the junta administration also released 9,652 prisoners on Jan. 4, 2024 for Burmese Independence Day, but few political prisoners were among them, according to advocates for those jailed under the military regime. 

According to the statements released by the junta, only 15 pardons were granted and a total of 95,000 prisoners have been released in more than three years since the coup.

 Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.