On Monday, Myanmar's military released thousands of people detained for protesting the junta's February coup under strict conditions, prompting observers to dismiss the move as a bid to appease the international community at a time when the junta is under pressure from both the international and domestic communities to step down.
The administration announced the release of 1,316 inmates from various facilities across the country and 4,320 detainees facing ongoing anti-junta trials, including well-known politicians, celebrities, actors, and journalists. The military also dropped charges against 34 fugitive artists and celebrities.
Monywa Aung Shin of the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) party's information team, La Raw of the Kachin Wave News Agency, Saing Nu Pan of 74-Media, Thin Thin Aung and James Aung Khant of Mizzima News, and Kyaw Myint of Modern Image Media were among those who were freed.
The release was imposed under the Criminal Procedure Code's Section 401 sub-section (1), which specifies that if a detainee commits another crime after being released, they must serve the remainder of their term and any penalty linked to the new offense.
The junta's second amnesty announcement, following a national amnesty on June 30, saw 200 detainees released around the country.
Crowds gathered at Yangon's renowned Insein Prison entrance on Monday evening, waving as a bus carrying detainees was released.
Ngu Wah Khine, a 31-year-old woman who was sentenced to three years in prison last month for donating money to the anti-junta People's Defense Force (PDF), told RFA's Myanmar Service that she and her fellow detainees only found out they were being released "moments before" wardens had them line up to leave.
"We heard about the possible release three or four days ago, but no one inside the prison took it seriously," she stated.
"At around 10:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m., we saw a news announcement about the release, but we couldn't be sure and assumed the information was incorrect."
Absence of the NLD leaders
According to Junta Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun, the release was intended to provide inmates in the country's prisons "a chance to participate in nation-building work." However, he admitted that they had been released "with certain restrictions."
"The fact is that they were involved [in anti-coup protests]," he stated. "However, for the time being, because they are our citizens, we have decided to allow them to participate in nation-building."
According to Zaw Min Tun, the release was not the result of internal or external pressure and that some people had been "similarly freed when investigations into their cases were completed."
Former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint of the National League for Democracy (NLD), arrested after the military staged a power grab on February 1, were noticeably absent from the list of liberated inmates.
The two are accused of "state defamation" under Article 505 (b) of Myanmar's Penal Code in connection with two remarks made by the NLD Central Executive Committee on February 7 and 13 that prosecutors believe were intended to disrupt public order and incite opposition to the government.
In a statement issued on February 7, the Central Executive Committee urged foreign governments, diplomatic missions, United Nations agencies, and international organizations not to recognize the junta, claiming that the military had violated Myanmar's 2008 constitution by staging a coup against elected government leaders.
The junta declared in a statement issued on February 13 that all regulations, rules, and laws implemented by the military administration were unconstitutional. The announcement came as the junta was circulating a stringent cyber security bill.
According to Zaw Min Tun, Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi are still on trial, and their release would "depend on the outcome of their cases."
On February 1, Myanmar's military deposed the democratically elected NLD administration, claiming that the party had stolen the country's November 2020 election through voting fraud.
According to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the junta has yet to present its allegations. It has ruthlessly suppressed anti-coup protests, murdering at least 1,181 people and detaining 7,355 others. After Monday's amnesty, moreover, 3,000 people remain imprisoned in various jails.
Amid countrywide unrest, the military has increased offensives in remote corners of the country, sparking fierce clashes with local PDF militias and some of Myanmar's dozens of ethnic armies that control significant swaths of land. Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government (NUG) declared a statewide emergency on September 7 and called for open rebellion against the junta, increasing attacks on military targets.
The international world has also pressured the junta to halt its brutal rule, including sanctions from Western governments and censure from Myanmar's fellow ASEAN members and the United Nations human rights office.
If the junta is serious about "nation-building," Aung Kyi Nyunt, a senior NLD official, told RFA that the military should release all individuals involved in anti-coup protests without conditions, including the country's deposed leaders.
"For a long time, the international community and ASEAN have called for their unconditional release," he stated.
"All those detained for their involvement in politics and protests must be released unconditionally if [the junta] is sincere." However, it will only be helpful if all of the country's stakeholders can freely participate in politics. If they do this now to extend their control and system, the political problem will never be entirely solved."
According to Thura Aung, the head of a Mandalay anti-junta boycott movement, the release is "a face-saving act for the international arena and ASEAN."
"It's just lip service—they're only releasing 10 people out of 100, and we can't trust them," he explained.
"Our leaders were not released, and only a few of those who had been detained during the crackdown were released. They slammed automobiles into people, shot individuals, and conducted arrests with a vengeance. I don't think they'll succeed, even if they're trying to save face."
Detainees who are released but can be re-arrested at any time, according to Tun Kyi, a spokeswoman for the Ex-Political Prisoner Society, are essentially "political hostages."
"These people were not released through good will because the release was made under Section 401 Article 1 of the Criminal Procedure Code," he stated.
"These detainees were held as political hostages and were released as a result of international pressure." Military dictatorships have demonstrated this type of behavior in the past."