Myanmar Presidential Pardon Condemned for Exclusion of Political Prisoners

By San Yamin Aung 20 April 2020

YANGON — More than 50 political prisoners, including satirical performers and pro-democracy activists who were jailed for criticizing the military, missed out in Myanmar’s largest mass pardon in recent years.

President U Win Myint pardoned nearly 25,000 prisoners on April 17, including 87 foreign prisoners, to mark Myanmar’s New Year to ensure the “peace of mind” and to address humanitarian concerns.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), only 18 political prisoners were included in the largest prisoners’ pardon in 10 years, and 58 political prisoners remain in jail.

Among those behind bars are six members of the Peacock Generation satirical performance group, pro-democracy activist and former army captain Nay Myo Zin, prominent Rakhine politician Dr. Aye Maung and author Wai Hin Aung.

The Peacock Generation members were found guilty of trying to persuade military personnel to mutiny or neglect their duties and insulting the army for satirizing the military during 2019’s New Year festival. They faced a total of eight lawsuits filed by military officers and were sentenced to a total of 2½ years in prison after three separate trials in late 2019.

Nay Myo Zin was given a one-year prison sentence for speaking out against the military leadership in September 2019 and faces three more charges filed by military officers.

Released prisoners from Insein Prison greeted their families. The government prepared buses to take released prisoners to the nearest point from their homes. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

Dr. Aye Maung and Wai Hin Aung were sentenced to 20 years in prison for high treason and another two years for state defamation in March 2019 for remarks deemed to be encouraging to the Arakan Army, which was later labeled a terrorist group.

The AAPP called for the unconditional release of all political prisoners.

The president’s pardon order also includes reducing death sentences to life sentences. Those sentenced to more than 40 years had their terms cut to 40 years and prisoners facing 40 years or less had their sentences reduced by a quarter.

Big crowds gathered outside Yangon’s Insein Prison, which freed over 2,700 prisoners on April 17, despite the government banning gatherings of five or more people to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Amnesty International said it was appalling that prisoners of conscience and peaceful activists were largely excluded from the presidential pardon. Moreover, crowded prisons and detention centers are a very dangerous hotspot for COVID-19, it added, calling on the authorities to protect prisoners, especially those who were peacefully exercising their rights.

“In a democracy, we shouldn’t have even a single political prisoner,” Ko Aung Myo Kyaw of the AAPP told The Irrawaddy.

He added that all political prisoners should be freed,  especially because of the added threat of COVID-19 as the country needs strength and contributions from all.

“They were imprisoned under oppressive laws in the first place. It is a loss of strength for the nation, especially at this time,” he said.

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