Myanmar frees 6,000 prisoners in sweeping amnesty, including UK ambassador Vicky Bowman

Sean Turnell, an economist at Australia's Macquarie University, speaks in front of audience at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. (Photo: AP)

To celebrate National Day, Myanmar's military-run government released around 6,000 detainees, including a former British ambassador, an Australian economist, and a Japanese documentary filmmaker.

State media have confirmed that the military junta, which overthrew the democratically elected government in a coup in 2021, will grant amnesty to the four foreign nationals: Australian economist Sean Turnell, former British ambassador Vicky Bowman, Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota, and an American citizen.

The action was a rare olive branch extended to Western nations, many of which had imposed sanctions on the Southeast Asian country in the wake of last year's unexpected coup.

According to the military, the amnesty was issued for "humanitarian reasons" and to commemorate Myanmar's National Day.

Amnesty was granted to 5,774 male and 676 female convicts.

The move has been met with relief and is being applauded by activists, attorneys, and family members of the incarcerated individuals.

There was no immediate independent confirmation of the release of the four foreign inmates.

In a carefully phrased opening statement, the Australian foreign minister stated, "We welcome the findings regarding Professor Sean Turnell. Professor Turnell remains our number one priority. Consequently, we will make no additional comments at this time."

Mr. Turnell, a longtime aide to ousted opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison under the Official Secrets Act shortly after the coup.

Ms. Bowman and Mr. Kubota were each sentenced to one year and ten years in prison earlier this year.

The Japanese foreign ministry also stated that they had been told of Myanmar's plans to release Mr. Kubota, but had no other information beyond the assertion that the 26-year-old documentary filmmaker from Tokyo was in good condition.

Kyaw Htay Oo, a citizen of the United States, and eleven Myanmar celebrities were among the thousands of convicts released, according to Myanmar's state-run MRTV.

Following the 1 February 2021 coup, when the military rolled down tanks and arrested Ms. Suu Kyi, Myanmar's president WinMyint, and other leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD), citing election fraud in the November 2020 elections, Myanmar has faced increasing diplomatic isolation from Western countries as well as Asian neighbors.

In the aftermath, the military unleashed a savage crackdown against pro-democracy protesters to suppress nationwide demonstrations and armed resistance, which some United Nations experts have characterized as a civil war.

Indonesia, which will take over the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) the following year, has vowed to take a stricter stance against the junta.

Ms. Bowman, a 56-year-old native Burmese speaker, served as the British envoy to Myanmar from 2002 to 2006.

In August, she and her husband, a Myanmar national, were arrested in Yangon. In September, she was sentenced to one year in prison for failing to register her residency.

Mr. Kubota was the fifth foreign journalist jailed in Myanmar since the military's takeover of the government. He traveled in July to film a documentary about a Myanmar citizen and was arrested in the same month during an anti-government rally in Yangon.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on allegations of sedition and violation of the electronic communications law.

Kyaw Tint Swe, a former union minister for the office of the state counselor, Than Htay, a former member of the Union Election Commission, and Lae Lae Maw, a former chief minister of Tanintharyi Region who had been imprisoned for 30 years for corruption since 2020 under Ms. Suu Kyi's government, were also among those released, according to MRTV.

Publish : 2022-11-17 18:53:00

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