The Irrawaddy

President U Htin Kyaw Pardons the Commander Who Once Jailed Him

Left: U Hsan Hsint during his one of the court hearings in 2014. Right: U Htin Kyaw in 2016.

RANGOON — Call it a twist of fate when one grants amnesty to he who once arrested him. This occurred on Tuesday when Burmese President U Htin Kyaw signed an order to release for ex-religious affairs minister U Hsan Hsint, along with 258 prisoners, in commemoration of the second session of the Union Peace Conference.

Until Tuesday, the former minister was serving a 13-year prison sentence handed down under the previous U Thein Sein-led government for a corruption scandal. Before his stint as minister—which lasted less than one year—U Hsan Hsint had served in the Burma Army until 2010, where he once became the deputy commander of the Rangoon Command.

On Sept. 20, 2000, the then-Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters were prevented from leaving Rangoon when security forces stopped her from boarding a train for Mandalay. Soldiers were ready to detain them.

Shortly before the arrest, U Htin Kyaw, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s confidant, had arrived in a car to take her home. U Hsan Hsint, who was the military commander of the operation, questioned who he was, and an argument followed, resulting in U Htin Kyaw’s arrest. He was put in detention for more than four months.

Years later, in 2016, when U Htin Kyaw was sworn in as the country’s first civilian President in more than 50 years, his one-time jailer U Hsan Hsint was counting the days until his release from a prison in a provincial town in upper Burma. With the stroke of U Htin Kyaw’s pen, the former army man walked out of jail on Wednesday.

It’s not clear if U Hsan Hsint was aware of the fact that the person who granted him amnesty was the man whose arrest he had ordered 17 years ago, as the ex-minister was not available for comment on Wednesday. One thing is sure: the Presidential pardon gifted him freedom nine years before his sentence would have been fulfilled.