Myanmar: Hundreds of political prisoners released, but thousands remain in jail


Hundreds of political prisoners in Myanmar were granted amnesty this week, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said Friday, but thousands more remain incarcerated.

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Protesters in Washington DC, United States, march against the military takeover in Myanmar.

“The release of political prisoners in Myanmar is not only a relief to those unfairly detained, but also their families”, OHCHR Spokesperson Jeremy Laurence told journalists in Geneva.

“Importantly, however, we take this opportunity to call for the release of the thousands of others who remain in detention for opposing military rule”.

Tortured in prison
To mark the country’s 75th anniversary of independence, the military junta which seized power nearly two years ago, announced this week that it would free some 7,000 prisoners.

However, it did not specify whether those jailed as part of its brutal crackdown on dissent would be included.

Citing credible sources, the OHCHR spokesperson said that the military regime has incarcerated some 300 political prisoners.

“Even as news emerged about the amnesty to mark the country's independence day, we continued to receive reports of people being detained for opposing military rule, many of whom have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment”, he said.

Freedom during crackdown
Since the military coup of 1 February 2021, nearly 17,000 people have been arrested and over 13,000 remain in detention, he said.

The local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners also believes that 300 political prisoners had been released – having identified 223, while working to verify the others.

In welcoming the amnesty, the UN official pointed out that on the very day that they were released, another 22 political prisoners were detained.

“Such detentions are not only intended to silence the junta’s critics, but are also designed to instil fear”, he stated.

Freedom call
As this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has called for an end to arbitrary detention once and for all.

Regarding human rights as “the force that come in and unify us”, bringing everyone “back to the fundamentals of who we are, of human dignity and to what connects us all with each other”, he argued that one person’s pain ultimately hurts everyone.

The UN rights chief called on governments and all detaining authorities globally to put the milestone Declaration into action by granting an amnesty, pardon or by simply releasing all those detained for exercising their rights.

“The pathway out of Myanmar’s crisis is not by locking people up – it is by allowing them to freely, fully, and effectively participate in political life”, underscored Mr. Laurence.

Call for release of Aung San Suu Kyi
Turning to former democratically elected leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi’s further sentencing earlier in the week, OHCHR appealed for her immediate release and for the arbitrary detention of individuals to cease.

On Tuesday, the UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said that Secretary-General António Guterres had also expressed his “deep concern” at the latest verdicts and sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi, “and reiterates his calls for her immediate release and that of President Wyn Myint and of all arbitrarily detained prisoners in Myanmar.”

Mr. Laurence told journalists in Geneva that OHCHR was in constant engagement with the authorities, and that the High Commissioner would be releasing a new report soon on Myanmar.