Starting Tuesday, thousands of prisoners have been given amnesty from their sentencing in Myanmar/Burma. Many were released from prison, but others were not confined to a jail cell. They had been under strict “conditional release” which sort of acted like a strict probation — the “Article 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on Suspensions, Remissions and Commutations of Sentences” allowed their conditional freedom, but any wrong move and they would be thrown back in prison and forced to serve their initial sentence. Regardless of how they were serving their time, thousands have now been freed.
These thousands are not a group of hardened criminals. Newly elected President U Win Myint pardoned these prisoners, many of which were from the various ethnic minorities, sentenced for their affiliations with groups that align with Karen, Kachin or Shan interests, to name a few. They include pastors, monks and politicians, some of which were charged with defamation of the government. Some of them were held on drug charges — all are being considered political prisoners, calling into question the nature of some of the initial charges. 8,541 prisoners have been granted amnesty, 51 of which were foreigners and 36 of which were official political prisoners, according to local news sources.
These pardons do not include the two Reuters journalists who were jailed when investigating human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar military. Those two are still facing up to 14 years in prison, which could mean hard labor.
President Win Myint took office on 30 March of this year, so he has not been around long. Still, many are hopeful — he said that, “By applying the lessons learned from the challenges and crises we have experienced in the past, our government will try its best, with full impartiality, to bring about democracy and the respect for human rights that our people long for.” This is the type of rhetoric many have been waiting for, and the release of this many political prisoners is a major win for the human rights groups in the area. However, champions of human rights have come and gone in Myanmar, so many of the people — particularly the ethnic minorities — will remain skeptical for the time being. A huge factor is the level of assertiveness and control President Myint shows over the military, and how he might keep them accountable for their actions.
How he plans to tackle the conflicts surrounding the Rohingya is yet to be seen.
Featured image: A Myanmar official stands while a truck carrying released prisoners park near the gate at Insein prison Tuesday, April 17, 2018, Yangon, Myanmar. Myanmar President Win Myint has granted amnesty to more than 8,500 prisoners, reportedly including at least three dozen political prisoners. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)