Of the 8,490 to be released as part of the country’s traditional new year celebrations, more than 6,000 have been convicted of drug offences
Newly elected Myanmar President Win Myint has signed a pardon guaranteeing the release of more than 8,000 prisoners, many of whom were jailed on drugs charges.
“To bring peace and pleasure to people’s heart, and for the sake of humanitarian support, 8,490 prisoners from respective prisons will be pardoned,” the President’s office said in a statement.
According to a Facebook post by government spokesman U Zaw Htay, the pardon extended to more than 6,000 drug offenders, as well as more than 50 foreigners and 36 political prisoners.
However, Bo Kyi, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), told the Washington Post that it was unclear whether all of the 36 political prisoners would be released or not.
“[T]hat’s why the family members are waiting outside of the prison,” he said, in reference to the scores of people who waited outside the gates of Yangon’s Insein Prison on Tuesday morning in the hope of being reunited with loved ones.
According to AAPP’s records, in Myanmar, 54 political prisoners are currently serving prison terms after being convicted, 74 are in detention awaiting trial, and another 120 are awaiting trial but are not detained.
Two noticeable omissions from the list of pardoned prisoners were Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, two Reuters journalists who were arrested in December after being accused of illegally possessing confidential government documents while reporting on the brutal murder of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine State.
On 11 April, a Myanmar judge ruled that their case, which is widely regarded as politically motivated, would proceed to trial.
The two reporters are being held under Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years.
Last month, world renowned human rights lawyer Amal Clooney joined the legal team representing the two journalists after concluding from a review of their case file that the pair were “being prosecuted simply because they reported the news”.
“It is clear beyond doubt that the two journalists are innocent and should be released immediately,” Clooney said in a statement at the time.
“The outcome of this case will tell us a lot about Myanmar’s commitment to the rule of law and freedom of speech.”