Tags: AS | Myanmar | Political Prisoners

New Myanmar Government Begins Releasing Political Prisoners

Friday, 08 April 2016 10:18 AM

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government began releasing political prisoners on Friday under a plan announced by the country's new de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar media reported that more than 60 students arrested a year ago during a protest over education reforms were released by a court in the central town of Tharrawaddy. The releases were part of a general amnesty that also covered other convicts ahead of Myanmar's traditional New Year festival, often the occasion for prisoner releases.

Photos from the scene showed some of the released prisoners being presented with bouquets and garlands by well-wishers.

Rights groups estimated that 100 political detainees remained in prison when a military-backed government was succeeded by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party late last month. About 400 others were being held pending trial, including those freed in Tharrawaddy. Different procedures are required for the release of people from the two groups.

"Today's release of most of the student protesters is a huge step forward for human rights in Myanmar, and we are delighted that these men and women will walk free. It sends a strong message about the new government's intention to end the cycle of political arrest and detention in Myanmar," said Laura Haigh, Myanmar researcher for the human rights group Amnesty International.

"We are now looking forward to the release of all other prisoners of conscience — including those students who are facing charges in other courts. The new government must ensure that no prisoner of conscience is left in jail," she said in a statement.

Under the previous government that took power in 2011, more than 1,100 political detainees were released. The junta that held power before then kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for a number of years, and jailed hundreds of her supporters and other critics.

Suu Kyi, who holds the specially created post of state counsellor, announced Thursday in a statement on the Facebook page of the office of President Htin Kyaw that the release of political prisoners was a priority. It was her first official act in her new job, which is akin to that of prime minister.

By agreement of her party, Suu Kyi is the de facto head of government, though the military-era constitution does not allow her to be president because her two sons have British citizenship. Shortly before her party won a landslide victory in last November's election, she announced her intention to run the government by being "above the president."

The students released in Tharrawaddy were arrested in March last year while marching to protest a new law that they said put all decisions about educational policy and curriculum in the hands of a group largely composed of government ministers, undermining the autonomy of universities.

They were detained after hundreds of riot police charged their protest, pummeling them with batons and dragging them into trucks. Charges against them included injuring a public servant, which carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment, and unlawful assembly, which carries a six-month sentence.

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Myanmar's government began releasing political prisoners on Friday under a plan announced by the country's new de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.Myanmar media reported that more than 60 students arrested a year ago during a protest over education reforms were released by a...
AS,Myanmar,Political Prisoners
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2016-18-08
Friday, 08 April 2016 10:18 AM
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