The Myanmar junta’s Union Day prisoner amnesty has seen only convicted criminals released from jail rather than political dissidents.
The regime released 814 criminals on Saturday on the condition that if they are convicted of another offense in the future, they will have to serve the remainder of their previous sentence in addition to any new one. Seven Sri Lanka nationals were also released and deported under the amnesty.
“It is sad that prisoners of conscience were not released. The regime still holds them because it dare not release them,” said one former political prisoner from Mandalay.
Up to February 11 this year, 9,087 people have been detained for anti-regime activities since last year’s coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). 703 of those have been convicted and imprisoned, with 45 of them, including two teenagers, given the death sentence.
The AAPP said the actual number of people detained or arbitrarily killed by the regime could be higher.
A lawyer acting for anti-coup activists detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison said that the regime wants to give the international community the false impression that it has released dissidents. “But at the same time, it [the amnesty] sends an explicit message to the opposition forces inside the country that the junta won’t release political prisoners,” he added.
On Saturday, 96 prisoners from Insein Prison, 40 prisoners including a Chinese national from Mandalay’s Obo Prison, 13 from Bago’s Pyay Prison, 70 from prisons and labor camps in Mon State and 21 from Rakhine State were released.
Ousted Karen State chief minister Daw Nan Khin Htwe Myint had her jail sentence commuted by half by the junta. The 67-year-old was detained after the coup and sentenced to 80 years in prison in December for corruption, sedition and violation of the military-drafted 2008 constitution.
The regime also closed the cases of 46 individuals detained for having alleged ties to the Rakhine ethnic armed organization the Arakan Army, which was once labelled a terrorist group by the Myanmar military.
Among those released were 23 villagers from Lekka Village in Rakhine State’s Mrauk-U who had been detained since April 2019 under the Counter-Terrorism Law. Twenty-seven people from Lekka Village were originally detained, with three of them dying during interrogations. It is unclear if the remaining detainee from Lekka is still being held.
The military regime has detained elected lawmakers since the coup, including State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. Over 1,500 people have been killed by the junta since the military’s takeover.
The regime spent at least 9 billion kyats (around US$5 million) on a grand military review in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw on Saturday to mark the 75th anniversary of Union Day, according to sources in the capital. The All Burma Federation of Student Unions staged a protest against the event on Saturday in Yangon, calling on the people to root out the sham Union system.
The civilian National Unity Government (NUG) also held a virtual event to mark Union Day and the signing of the Panglong Agreement on February 12, 1947 between the then Aung San-led Burmese government and some of the country’s ethnic minorities.
Kachin Independence Army chief of staff General Gam Shawng Gunhtang delivered an address to the NUG’s virtual event, urging the NUG to take a leadership role in realizing the commitments made in the Panglong Agreement and calling on ethnic minority groups to cooperate.