Myanmar frees 199 political prisoners

Insein Prison, Yangon. Source: Wikimedia

Myanmar’s judiciary has dropped charges against nearly 200 political prisoners since Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to fight for their freedom, as two Muslim activists were jailed in Mandalay.

Many cases against activists had been dismissed, an anonymous senior police officer said, following Suu Kyi’s announcement on Thursday that she was working with her party to secure the release of around 500 political prisoners.

“Police have dropped 199 cases against political activists around the country as of yesterday,” said the officer.

The National League for Democracy government is filled with former convicts.

Dozens of student protesters were freed in Tharrawaddy after being held while on trial since their arrest for taking part in a protest march from Mandalay to Yangon in March last year against the unpopular National Education Act.

Suu Kyi said more political prisoners would be released after the Thingyan new year holiday but the “necessary scrutinisation” would need to be completed first.

The police officer said other activists would be freed when the courts reopened after the Thingyan water festival.

The new civilian government is expected to seek the release of convicted prisoners of conscience through a pardon from President Htin Kyaw, who was sworn in late last month.

Activists now want the NLD to amend the notorious Section 18 of the Law on Peaceful Assembly that allows the authorities to arrest peaceful protesters for failing to comply with rigid rules. They also say there are still hundreds of political prisoners being held while they face trial.

“We look forward to the release of all remaining political prisoners and their full rehabilitation,” the European Union announced.

Meanwhile, amid the wider amnesty, two Muslim peace activists were jailed for two years with hard labour for alleged contact with the rebel Kachin Independence Army.

A Mandalay court jailed Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt, who are members of an interfaith group and claimed they had been working to help refugees.

Muslims form a small, oppressed minority in Myanmar. The Rohingya Muslims, in western Rakhine State, face violence and are seen as “illegal” immigrants from Bangladesh.

They have been denied Burmese nationality since a 1982 citizenship act and have been the target of frequent attacks in recent years.