Myanmar’s junta said Thursday it will release 700 prisoners, including a former British ambassador, a Japanese journalist and an Australian adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government.
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.
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 AFP.
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, 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.
– ‘Delighted’ –
“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.