For many months, human rights organizations have been calling for the release of the large number of detainees in Burma who are being held by the ruling junta and accused of carrying out a bloody crackdown on dissidents after the military coup in February 2021.
They have been heard in part since the junta announced on Thursday November 16 that it would release 5,774 prisoners, including around 600 women. Among them are former British Ambassador Vicky Bowman, Australian Sean Turnell and Japanese journalist Toru Kubota. “will be pardoned and expelled”the junta said in a statement.
Vicky Bowman, who served between 2002 and 2006, and her husband, Burmese artist Htein Lin, a former political prisoner, both arrested in August for violating immigration laws, were sentenced to one year in prison. Htein Lin was released like his wife, Agence France-Presse (AFP) learned.
Sean Turnell, an Australian economics professor, was working as an advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi when he was arrested days after the February 2021 coup. He was sentenced to three years in prison in September for violating the Official Secrets Act.
Toru Kubota, 26, was arrested on the sidelines of an anti-junta demonstration in Rangoon in July and sentenced to 10 years in prison. A Japanese diplomatic source confirmed to AFP that he “would appear today [jeudi] » and was also due to leave Burma for Japan on Thursday, according to this source.
Almost 70 journalists still in prison
He was the fifth foreign journalist to be arrested by the junta since the coup, after Americans Danny Fenster and Nathan Maung, Poland’s Robert Bociaga and Japan’s Yuki Kitazumi, all of whom were eventually released and deported. According to UNESCO, at least 170 journalists have been arrested since the coup, and almost 70 of them are still in prison.
Another foreigner will be released: Kyaw Htay Oo, a Burmese national with an American passport, according to an official source.
Families gathered outside Yangon’s Insein Prison ahead of the expected announcement of the prisoners’ release, an AFP journalist at the scene said.
San San Aye said he is waiting for his siblings to be released. “Three of them were sentenced to three years each eight months ago”She said. “Your children are waiting at home. We will be more than happy when they are released. » For his part, Kyaw Htay, whose son was sentenced to three years in prison for sharing anti-coup messages on social media, said he hoped he would “released today”.
Three former ministers released
“The release of Professor Turnell is very good news after he was taken hostage by the regime, his family and friends will be happy.”, independent expert David Mathieson told AFP. But the junta “shows no signs of reform and a mass amnesty does not absolve him of atrocities committed since the coup”he remembered.
“Thousands of people imprisoned since the coup (…) did nothing wrong and should never have been imprisoned.said the spokesman for the regional office of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Amnesty International.
Three former ministers in Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government, which remains in detention pending trial, have also been released, a senior junta official said.
According to a local NGO count, more than 2,300 civilians have been killed by security forces since the coup that plunged the country into a bloody conflict. The junta, which is prosecuting its opponents, has more than 3,900.