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World

New Myanmar Government Frees Scores of Jailed Activists

Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest, is now leading the way as state counselor to free state activists

Student protesters shout after they were released by the new government's general amnesty at Tharrawaddy court, Tharrawaddy, Bago division
By Reuters Whatsapp Twitter Facebook Share
1 year ago

YANGON – Myanmar’s new government released scores of jailed activists on Friday, just over a week after assuming power, and said it was preparing to pardon 100 more people serving sentences for political offences.

The move by Aung San Suu Kyi, whose post as state counselor makes her Myanmar’s de facto head of state, was welcomed by Washington and human rights groups.

Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, mobilizing world opinion in her favor. Photo: Reuters/Thar Byaw.

Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, mobilizing world opinion in her favor. Photo: Reuters/Thar Byaw.

Many of Suu Kyi’s supporters and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party were political prisoners under the junta that ceded power in 2011 after nearly 50 years of military rule. The new government was sworn in on March 30 after the NLD swept a general election in November.

Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest, said on Thursday that releasing remaining political prisoners was a top priority. It was unclear if the military, which controls key cabinet posts overseeing local government, law and order and security, supported the moves.

Sixty-nine student activists and supporters had charges against them dismissed and were released from jail in the town of Tharrawaddy, north of Yangon, said Zaw Htay, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s office. Students and relatives hugged and some waved NLD flags after their release.

Many of them were detained during a violent police dispersal of student protests in March 2015.

President Htin Kyaw was putting together another pardon for more than 100 people serving sentences for political crimes, Zaw Htay said.

The U.S. State Department said in a daily news briefing the steps showed a “commitment to human rights” and that it was ready to help Myanmar with more democratic reforms.

Phyo Phyo Aung (C), leader of the student protest, smiles as she finds out that they have been released, during court hearing at Tharrawaddy court. Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun.

Phyo Phyo Aung (C), leader of the student protest, smiles as she finds out that they have been released, during court hearing at Tharrawaddy court. Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun.

Amnesty International applauded the release and called on the government to free remaining prisoners of conscience and repeal laws that it said fueled arbitrary arrests.

Amnesty said at least five student leaders facing charges remained in detention.

The released activists were among 414 people facing political charges in Myanmar, said Bo Kyi, the head of rights monitor the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). The release leaves 47 on remand in jail and another 298 on bail while facing charges.

Suu Kyi has said she wants a reconciliation government and to avoid recriminations over the military’s brutal rule of the country. But tensions have simmered between the NLD and the military over the role of the enormously popular Suu Kyi in the government.

AUNG HLA TUN

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