More Than 250 Prisoners Released Under Amnesty

By San Yamin Aung 24 May 2017

RANGOON — A former religion minister, interfaith activists, and a man charged under Article 66(d) of Burma’s controversial Telecommunication’s Law were among 259 prisoners released under a presidential amnesty on Wednesday.

In recognition of the opening of the Union Peace Conference in Naypyidaw, 186 prisoners from Burma were released and 73 foreign prisoners were deported from jails across the country.

One of the most high-profile prisoners released in the amnesty, former religion minister U Hsan Hsint, was sentenced to 13 years in October 2014 on charges of corruption and sedition after ex-president U Thein Sein dismissed him. He served nearly four years in Ramethin prison in Mandalay and Taungoo prison in Pegu Division.

U Hsan Hsint’s brother U Hsan Myint, an Upper House lawmaker, confirmed the former minister’s release from Taungoo prison.

Ten political prisoners were released, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), including Muslim interfaith activists Ma Pwint Phyu Latt and Ko Zaw Zaw Latt. The pair was sentenced to four years in Mandalay’s Obo prison under the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act in April 2016 and the Immigration Act in February.

“I am very glad to be released under the amnesty, as I still had 10 months left in prison,” said Ma Pwint Phyu Latt. “But I feel sad that we were sentenced while working for peace in the country. We will keep working for peace.”

The other freed political prisoners comprised three labor rights leaders from a plywood factory in Sagaing Industrial Zone sentenced under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law in March and four student protestors sentenced under the same act and for disrespecting the court on May 9.

The labor rights leaders were released from Sagaing’s Shwebo prison and the students were among the 46 prisoners released from Mandalay’s Obo prison.

Ko Hla Phone, imprisoned under four charges including Article (66)d of the Telecommunication’s Law for allegedly defaming the military and the previous government using a Facebook account under the name Kyat Pha Gyi, was released from Rangoon’s Insein prison. A Chinese man was released from the same prison.

Most of the 94 prisoners released from Thandwe, Kyaukphyu, Sittwe, and Buthidaung prisons in Arakan State were jailed under the Unlawful Association Act for having contact with the Arakan Army (AA). Some were members of the AA and 28 were foreigners.

The AA was invited to the Union Peace Conference as a “special guest,” meaning it is allowed to submit papers to the conference, but not allowed to address the conference as delegates, according to government sources.

Saw Thiha Win and Thet Khaing, two members of a Democratic Karen Buddhist Army splinter group, served three months of their two-year sentence and Hla Myo Tun served two months of his six-month sentence for involvement with the splinter group. All three were sentenced under the Unlawful Association Act and released from Mon State’s Thaton prison.

A Thai prisoner sentenced to two years under Burma’s 1947 Immigration Act for killing five Burmese migrant workers in Thailand before fleeing to Burma was deported from Mon State’s Mawlamyine prison after serving six months.

Moe Myint from Rangoon, Zarni Mann from Mandalay, and Hintharnee from Mon State contributed to this report.