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Myanmar junta to free 6,000 prisoners, including foreigners

Myanmar’s junta will be releasing 6,000 prisoners, including a former British ambassador, a Japanese journalist, an Australian adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government and many celebrities, a senior official said and local media reported.

Former British envoy Vicky Bowman, Australian economics adviser Sean Turnell and Japanese journalist Toru Kubota “will be released to mark National Day”, a senior officer told the AFP news agency on Thursday. 

“Altogether, 5,774 prisoners including some 600 women prisoners will be released,” the official said, revising an earlier figure of about 700. 

The foreigners “are pardoned and deported,” the Myanmar junta said in a statement, without specifying when they would leave the country.

Myanmar Now, an independent news outlet, cited the military council as saying the pardons to almost 6,000 people were granted because it was Myanmar National Day.

“On National day, the military council announced that almost 6,000 prisoners were released. Among those were four foreigners and 11 celebrities,” the news report said.

The government’s spokesperson Majajor General Zaw Min Tun told the Voice of Myanmar and Yangon Media Group that the trio, as well as an unidentified American, were being released and deported.

Myanmar’s state-run MRTV later confirmed the reports, but there was no immediate independent confirmation they had been released.

48 journalists remain in custody

Bowman, who served as ambassador from 2002 to 2006, was detained with her husband in August for failing to declare she was living at an address different from the one listed on her foreigner’s registration certificate.

They were later jailed for one year. Her husband, a prominent artist Htein Lin, will also be released, the official said.

Sean Turnell was working as an adviser to Myanmar’s civilian leader Suu Kyi when he was detained shortly after the coup in February last year.

In September, he and Suu Kyi were convicted by a closed junta court of breaching the official secrets act and jailed for three years each.

Kubota, 26, was detained in July near an anti-government rally in Yangon along with two Myanmar citizens and jailed for 10 years.

A source at Japan’s embassy in Myanmar told AFP they had “been informed that Mr. Kubota will be released today” by junta authorities.

Kubota would leave for Japan “today”, they added.

Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained in Myanmar after US citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan — all of whom were later freed and deported.

As of March this year, 48 journalists remain in custody across the country, according to the monitoring group Reporting ASEAN.

Families gathered outside Insein prison in Yangon ahead of the expected announcement, an AFP reporter said.

The Southeast Asian country has been in turmoil since the military’s coup last year and a bloody crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands jailed.


“Professor Turnell’s release is remarkable news after being held hostage by the regime, and his family and friends will be delighted,” independent analyst David Mathieson told AFP.

But he said the junta “shows no sign of reform and a mass amnesty doesn’t absolve them of atrocities committed since the coup”.

Three former ministers from Suu Kyi’s ousted government and detained US-Myanmar citizen Kyaw Htay Oo would also be released, the junta official said.

The military’s crackdown on dissent since it ousted Suu Kyi’s government has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.

The junta blames anti-coup fighters for the deaths of almost 3,900 civilians.

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