Myanmar releases 5,600 political prisoners
According to activists, the mass release is a ploy by the junta to regain international credibility after its exclusion from the ASEAN summit later this month. Three Baptist clergyman from Kachin are among the people released. Some freed prisoners were detained and sent back to prison before they could get home.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Under international pressure from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Myanmar’s ruling military junta released more than 5,600 political prisoners, including priests, journalists and activists.
Myanmar’s Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) announced a general amnesty for the Buddhist festival of Thadingyut. However, like the releases in April and July, this one appears to be a ruse, some observers believe.
Most of those arrested were in prison for exercising their right to protest against the military, which took power in a coup d'état on 1 February.
Since then, anti-coup protests have been suppressed with violence while fighting has broken out between Myanmar’s military and resistance forces led by ethnic militias.
Activists from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners report that out of 9,000 jailed political prisoners at least 7,355 have been tortured, some to death.
Three Baptist clergymen in Kachin State were also released last night; they had been arrested on 28 June for organising prayer groups.
The Baptist Kachin Convention continues to play a leading role in protecting the country's approximately 215,000 displaced people even after the bombing of some churches.
“The junta seeks three things from the international community: money, weapons and legitimacy,” said Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar.
In his view, the prisoners’ release “is clearly not because the junta has had a change of heart,” but at least, “The junta’s actions demonstrate that, despite their statements to the contrary, they are not impervious to pressure.”
This follows an unprecedented move by ASEAN, which excluded the head of the Burmese military, General Min Aung Hlaing, from its summit scheduled for 26-28 October, ostensibly because Myanmar’s military government made "insufficient progress" to restore peace in the country.
In April, the self-proclaimed prime minister agreed to a five-point plan with ASEAN which he has not yet been implemented, suggesting a de facto withdrawal from the deal.
Brunei’s Foreign Minister, who currently chairs the association, put pressure on ASEAN not to invite the general, thus abandoning its traditional policy of non-interference in ASEAN internal affairs.
Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan tweeted that it was a "difficult but necessary decision to uphold ASEAN's credibility."
Previous diplomatic attempts have failed, including a visit by ASEAN’s special envoy, who was not allowed to meet the country’s former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still in prison and set to go on trial.