Myanmar President Win Myint has granted amnesty to more than 8,500 prisoners, including at least three dozen political prisoners, reports say.
The amnesty, announced on Tuesday, coincided with Myanmar’s traditional New Year. It was granted to 8,490 Myanmar citizens and 51 foreigners. A statement from presidential spokesman Zaw Thay said those released included the aged, people in ill health and drug offenders. None was individually named.
It also said 36 of those to be freed had been listed as political prisoners by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
The releases were to take place at prisons nationwide. Relatives and friends of those were seen waiting on Tuesday outside the gates at Insein Prison, in the northern outskirts of Yangon, where it was expected that more than 300 prisoners, including eight political detainees, would be released.
Although called an amnesty, the action appeared to actually be a mass pardon, meaning it would cover only prisoners who had already been convicted of crimes. Two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, facing a high-profile freedom of press trial for possessing secret official documents would not be covered under the action.
One of the journalists’ lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said his understanding was that the president was only pardoning convicted criminals.
“So, since the two reporters have not been sentenced for prison terms, we don’t know if they will be part of the release. If this was an amnesty, then it’s possible that they might be part of the list,” he told The Associated Press.
Bo Kyi, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said the group was waiting to confirm the releases.
“We don’t know exactly if all 36 political prisoners will be released or not, and that’s why the family members are waiting outside of the prison,” he said.
The group, which has extensive experience in monitoring the incarceration of political prisoners, says that 54 are currently serving prison terms after being convicted, 74 are in detention awaiting trial, and another 120 are awaiting trial but are not detained.