Monday, January 24

Myanmar’s junta frees more than 2,000 anti-coup protesters | Myanmar

Myanmar’s military junta has released more than 2,000 prisoners, including peaceful protesters and journalists who have been detained for months.

Crowds gathered outside the famous Insein prison on Wednesday morning, waiting all day for their family and friends to be released. More than 700 people were released, but thousands more remain in detention centers, where there have been widespread reports of torture.

Among those released was Kay Zon Nway, a multimedia reporter for the independent outlet Myanmar Now. She was arrested on February 27 while covering a protest and spent 124 days in detention. She has been charged with incitement, which can lead to two years in prison.

She told local media outside the prison: “More than four months have passed. As for the things that I have experienced… there are many. I’ll tell you all about it later. For now, I’m going home. I have a lot to say. “

Journalists Kay Zon Nway and Ye Myo Khant, after being released from Insein Prison
Journalists Kay Zon Nway, left, and Ye Myo Khant, after being released from Insein prison. Photograph: AP

Family members waited for hours to see if their loved ones were among those released. Local media footage showed a woman praying as she stood in the crowd behind metal barricades. Another old woman sitting on the ground, holding a bouquet of Eugenie, which in Burmese tradition is given to someone to celebrate a victory.

As buses transported groups from the Insein prison compound, inmates leaned out of windows to greet the crowd and raised their hands in a three-finger salute, a symbol of protest used to signal defiance to the military.

The board’s spokesman, Major General Zaw Min Tun, told the Irrawaddy news site that 2,296 people had been released across the country. He said this included people who had participated in protests “but not in leading roles” and who had not participated in violent acts.

Zaw Zaw, head of the Yangon region prison department, told the Associated Press that more than 720 people had been released from Insein.

The advocacy group for the Political Prisoner Assistance Association (Burma) warned that the release of the prisoners was a mere attempt by the junta to signal that it was relaxing its repressive rule. “This is not the case,” the group said. “In fact, the junta is making room for even more detainees and even more torture victims. People who remain in prison will be tortured more severely than those released.

The military’s relentless campaign of fear against the Burmese people continued, he warned.

A total of 6,421 people have been detained since the coup according to the AAPP, which has been tracking arrests and detentions. This includes peaceful opponents of the junta, from elected politicians to doctors, protesters, social media celebrities and journalists.

At least 883 protesters have been killed by the junta since February, estimates the AAPP. This includes dozens of children.

American journalist Danny Fenster is among those still held in Insein prison. He was arrested on May 24 while trying to leave Myanmar.

On Wednesday, the army issued another threat against journalists, warning reporters not to use the term “military junta” to refer to the regime. He also instructed the media not to “cite and exaggerate false news,” warning that “measures will be taken against it according to current laws.”

Overthrown leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces a series of criminal charges, has been under house arrest since the military took power on February 1. The army has tried to justify the coup by accusing its party, the National League for Democracy, of widespread electoral fraud, but this claim has been rejected by observers.

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