Monday 25 June 2018

New Burmese government begins releasing political prisoners

The military-backed government was succeeded by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy late last month (AP)
The military-backed government was succeeded by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy late last month (AP)

Burma's government has started releasing political prisoners under a plan announced by the country's new de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Local media said more than 60 students arrested a year ago during a protest over education reforms were released by a court in the central town of Tharrawaddy.

The releases were part of a general amnesty that also covered other convicts ahead of Burma's traditional new year festival, often the occasion for prisoner releases.

Rights groups estimated that 100 political detainees remained in prison when a military-backed government was succeeded by Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party late last month.

About 400 others were being held pending trial, including those freed in Tharrawaddy.

Under the previous government that took power in 2011, more than 1,100 political detainees were released. The junta that held power before then kept Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest for a number of years, and jailed hundreds of her supporters and other critics.

Ms Suu Kyi, who holds the specially created post of state counsellor, announced on Thursday in a statement on the Facebook page of the office of President Htin Kyaw that the release of political prisoners was a priority.

It was her first official act in her new job, which is akin to that of prime minister.

By agreement of her party, Ms Suu Kyi is effectively the head of the government, but the military-era constitution does not allow her to be president because her two sons have British citizenship.

Shortly before her party won a landslide victory in November's election, she announced her intention to run the government by being "above the president".

The students released in Tharrawaddy were arrested in March last year while marching to protest against a new law that they said put all decisions about educational policy and curriculum in the hands of a group largely composed of government ministers, undermining the autonomy of universities.

They were detained after hundreds of riot police charged their protest, pummelling them with batons and dragging them into trucks. Charges against them included injuring a public servant, which carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment, and unlawful assembly, which carries a six-month sentence.

Press Association

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