Burma: New president releases over 8,000 prisoners in New Year amnesty
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Burma: New president releases over 8,000 prisoners in New Year amnesty

OVER 8,000 prisoners are to be freed in Burma (Myanmar) after the newly appointed president granted an amnesty on Tuesday in a bid to “bring peace and pleasure to people’s heart.”

The presidential pardon, signed by newly-elected President Win Myint, was granted to 8,490 Burmese citizens and 51 foreigners. It also includes a reported 36 political prisoners as a sign of good will and to attract humanitarian support. It did not specify when the amnesty would take place.

“To bring peace and pleasure to people’s heart, and for the sake of humanitarian support, 8,490 prisoners from respective prisons will be given the pardon,” the Presidential Office said in a statement on their Facebook page.

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The amnesty only covered prisoners who had already been convicted of crimes, meaning two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, currently facing trial for possessing secret official documents, were not among those on the list.

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Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone is escorted by police after a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar February 28, 2018. Source: Reuters

Over 6,000 prisoners who were sentenced under drug-related charges would be included in the pardon, according to a Facebook post by government spokesman Zaw Htay.

Nearly 2,000 members of Burma’s military and police force, who were jailed under the Military Act or Police Disciplinary Act, would be freed, Zaw Htay wrote. He did not elaborate.

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Hundreds of political prisoners have been released from Burma’s jails in amnesties in recent years, including dozens freed in April 2016, days after de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party took power following nearly 50 years of military rule.

After spending years under house arrest during military power, the Nobel laureate made national reconciliation her top priority once she was elected. But the high expectations of greater freedoms for all have been dampened somewhat after activists and critics of the military have since been imprisoned.

Burma’s constitution obliges Suu Kyi’s civilian government to share power with the powerful military, which controls key cabinet posts including law and order and security.

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Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander in Chief of the Burmese military, shakes hands with National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Pic: AP.

“We submitted a list of 44 political prisoners and now 36 are released…This amnesty is very good news and we welcome and support it,” said the Burma representative for Assistance Association for Political Prisoners’ (AAPP), Aung Myo Kyaw.

“But there should not be a single political prisoner in a democratic country,” he said. “It will be better if remaining political prisoners and also those who are still facing charges were pardoned.”

Suu Kyi has said that releasing the remaining political prisoners was a top priority.

Prior to Tuesday’s pardon, there were 240 political activists jailed or awaiting trial in Burma, according to AAPP.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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