Political Prisoners Among Thousands Released in Myanmar Junta Amnesty

General

Myanmar’s junta released some 2,300 detainees—mostly political prisoners charged with defamation—as part of a nationwide amnesty on Wednesday, but the move was greeted with skepticism by critics who called it a stunt to gain international recognition following its February power grab.

The 2,296 detainees were freed from prisons in the capital Naypyidaw as well as all 14 of the country’s states and regions, and included journalists, protesters, and relief workers accused of violating Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code for defaming the military.

Aung Ye Ko, a reporter from 7 Days News, told RFA’s Myanmar Service he had been released 124 days after his Feb. 27 arrest while covering an anti-coup protest in the Hledan district of Myanmar’s largest city Yangon.

“I don’t know about their intentions or why I was released but I’m going to carry on with my profession,” he said.

“I endured a bit of physical and mental suffering while in there—there were no beatings but a lot of interrogations. I would say they have no respect for the Media Law.”

Ye Myo Khat, a photojournalist from Myanmar Press Agency (MPA), was arrested while covering the same protest as Aung Ye Ko and slammed the authorities for ignoring the nation’s legal protections for reporters.

“We were unlawfully arrested without any regard for the 2014 Media Law and it is totally unacceptable,” he said.

Anti-coup protesters who were freed told RFA under condition of anonymity that their charges had been withdrawn and vowed to continue fighting against military rule.

On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military orchestrated a coup d’état, claiming that a landslide victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in the country’s November 2020 elections was the result of widespread voter fraud. Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders have been held in detention since the takeover.

The junta has yet to provide evidence for its claims and has violently suppressed mass demonstrations against the takeover, killing at least 883 people and arresting 5,224, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

On Wednesday, an AAPP official, who declined to be named, told RFA that his organization does not consider the amnesty to be an act of good faith by the military.

“If they want to show goodwill, all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, should be released immediately and unconditionally,” he said, using an honorific for the 76-year-old Nobel laureate, who has been detained since the coup.

“What they did today, as usual, is to play a trick on the international community as their administration is in crisis.”

The official congratulated those released Wednesday on their freedom and urged those still in detention to “stay strong because they are a part of this revolution.”

Refugees who fled fighting at a makeshift camp in Chin state, June 11, 2021. RFA
Refugees who fled fighting at a makeshift camp in Chin state, June 11, 2021. RFA
Chin state clashes

Wednesday’s amnesty came as Myanmar’s military has stepped up offensives in remote parts of the country of 54 million that have led to fierce battles with a profusion of local People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias formed to protect residents from troops loyal to the junta.

Clashes between the military and the Chinland Defense Force (CDF) have been raging in northwest Myanmar’s southern Chin state since April 26 and have forced more than 50,000 people to flee to safety from their homes in the townships of Hakha, Mindat, Matupi and Kanpetle, according to aid groups.

At least 30 junta soldiers and four militia members were killed in fighting in Hakha and Falam townships on Tuesday, according to a CDF spokesman. 

The spokesman said the military launched an attack on CDF positions in Falam using heavy artillery, prompting a firefight that left four militiamen and an estimated 20 junta troops dead.

In Hakha, the Chin state capital, a five-hour exchange of fire that began early on Tuesday killed at least 15 government soldiers and injured one, another CDF member told RFA.

Residents of the area said the military has been looting villages for livestock and restricting the transportation of rice for fear that it will end up in the hands of CDF fighters. Prices for necessities are spiking and medicine is in short supply, they said.

While the two sides agreed a 14-day ceasefire on June 19, only around 30 percent of people displaced b fighting have returned to their homes, saying they continue to fear for their safety.

Win Myat Aye, Minister for Humanitarian and Disaster Management for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), told a news conference over the weekend that efforts to support war refugees in the region have been stymied by military restrictions.

More than a quarter of a million civilians in seven regions of Myanmar have been displaced by clashes between the military and militias or fighting between ethnic armies in the months since the junta overthrew the country’s democratically elected government, according to aid groups and the United Nations.

They join more 500,000 refugees from decades of military conflict between the government military and ethnic armies who were already counted as internally displaced persons at the end of 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.

Reported by Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.