Myanmar releases prisoners for New Year, though likely not dissidents

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends Invest Myanmar in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang

Myanmar’s junta released 23,184 prisoners from jails across the country on Saturday under a New Year amnesty, a Prisons Department spokesman said, though few if any democracy activists arrested since a Feb. 1 coup were thought to be among them.

Saturday is the first day of the traditional New Year in Myanmar and the last day of a five-day holiday that is usually celebrated with visits to Buddhist temples and rowdy water throwing and partying in the streets.

Pro-democracy activists called for the cancellation of the festivities this year and instead for people to focus on a campaign to restore democracy after the military’s ouster of the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi is among 3,141 people arrested in connection with the coup, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.

“These detainees are mostly from before Feb. 1 but there are also some who were imprisoned after,” Prisons Department spokesman Kyaw Tun Oo told Reuters by telephone.

Asked if any of those being freed might have been detained in connection with the protests against military rule, he said he did not have details of the amnesties.

While the military was freeing the thousands of prisoners, it was also seeking 832 people on warrants in connection with the protests, the AAPP said.

Among them are 200 people, including several internet celebrities, actors and singers who have spoken out against the coup, wanted on a charge of encouraging dissent in the armed forces, which can carry a three-year jail term.

Two of them, the married couple of film director Christina Kyi and actor Zenn Kyi, were detained at the airport in the main city of Yangon on Saturday as they were trying to leave on a flight to Bangkok, the Irrawaddy news site reported.

A spokesman for the junta did not answer calls seeking comment.

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