Myanmar pardons 8,500 prisoners in holiday amnesty

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Myanmar’s president today announced pardons for more than 8,500 prisoners, including three dozen jailed in political cases, as part of an annual amnesty marking the country’s traditional new year.

President Win Myint, who took office last month after his predecessor suddenly resigned, said the pardons would be granted on humanitarian grounds during the Buddhist new year festival known as Thingyan.

The amnesty was extended mostly to drug offenders, as well as more than 50 foreigners and 36 political prisoners, according to a breakdown posted on Facebook by government spokesman Zaw Htay.

Aung Myo Kyaw, spokesman for an NGO that helps political prisoners, welcomed the amnesty but called for the release of at least eight more prisoners of conscience who remain in jail.

Around 200 others in Myanmar are facing trials linked to political activities, said spokesman Aung Myo Kyaw from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

“The government can help them by cancelling the cases from the courts,” he told AFP.

Myanmar has freed thousands from its jails since a military junta ceded power in 2011 after five decades of brutal repression.

Hundreds of political prisoners were released shortly after the civilian government of former democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi took office in 2016 following a sweeping election victory.

But hopes of a new era of free expression have been dampened by a surge in prosecutions under a online defamation law in recent years.

The arrest of two Myanmar journalists working for Reuters has raised global alarm over worsening media freedoms in the fledgling democracy.

The reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, face up to 14 years in prison under the Official Secrets Act, which bars possessing classified documents.

They were arrested in December while reporting on Myanmar security officers’ role in the extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine state, where troops are accused of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslim minority.

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