11/17/2022, 12.30
MYANMAR
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Burmese junta releases 6,000 prisoners, but does not end repression

Four foreigners were also among those released. But yesterday a Christian singer and peace activist was returned to prison immediately after his release. In the last two days at least three children have died under regime bombings. 

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Burma's junta marked National Victory Day celebrating independence from Britain this morning by announcing it would grant a general amnesty and release thousands of political prisoners, including four foreign nationals. 

According to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Aapp), the military has arrested more than 16,000 civilians since the coup in February 2021. The coup overthrew the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was sentenced in sham trials to 26 years in prison, and started a brutal conflict whose end is not in sight and in which hundreds of civilians, including children, continue to lose their lives. In the last two days, the military bombed a kindergarten in Kayah State and a naming ceremony (a Buddhist practice comparable to baptism) in Rakhine. 

This is not the first time the military regime has celebrated national holidays with a release of prisoners. In the past, however, hundreds of prisoners had been re-arrested before they even crossed the prison gates.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said that 5,774 prisoners would be released, 700 of whom had been in detention since the coup. The foreigners are former British ambassador Vicky Bowman (together with her Burmese husband), Australian economist and former advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi, Sean Turnell, Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota and a US citizen imprisoned on terrorism charges.

At the moment, it is still unclear whether the junta will seek concessions from the international community to ease the political pressure after the release.

Meanwhile, arrests and bombings continue across the country. Yesterday, it was reported that the Christian activist and ethnic Karen reggae singer, Saw Phoe Khwar, was returned to prison after serving more than a year. He had been arrested on the day of the coup for incitement and 'violation of the law on natural disasters'.

The junta claims that the singer only served the months in prison for the first charge, so upon release he was returned to Insein prison on the outskirts of Yangon. 

Saw Phoe Khwar had written several satirical songs targeting the Burmese army and had supported the National League of Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi's party, during her victorious 2020 election campaign. In a 2013 interview with The Irrawaddy, he had said that hatred and lack of love for each other are the main causes of religious violence. He had condemned the ethnic pride, which some pass off as patriotism, that has led to decades of conflict in Myanmar.

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