Senior NLD Official, Prominent Myanmar Comedian Freed Alongside Activists, Journalists

By The Irrawaddy 19 October 2021

A National League for Democracy (NLD) official and other party members, around a dozen journalists, student activists, a writer, a comedian and a few striking civil servants were among those released under Monday’s amnesty order.

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing on Monday announced the regime’s decision to free over 1,300 people jailed for participating in anti-coup protests and more than 4,300 detainees who were facing trial on incitement charges for their anti-regime activism.

The amnesty followed an announcement by ASEAN that Min Aung Hlaing would not be invited to its annual summit later this month after the regional bloc’s call to end the ongoing violence in Myanmar in April was ignored.

Family members of detainees wait for their loved ones to be released in front of Insein Prison in Yangon.

NLD information secretary released

Monywa Aung Shin’s wife, Daw Kay Thwe Moe, told The Irrawaddy the detained politician returned to the family on Monday evening.

Monywa Aung Shin was arrested by regime forces at his home in Yangon’s Tamwe Township at around 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 1, the day the junta overthrew the democratically elected NLD-led government.

He was one of around 150 senior NLD leaders and Central Executive Committee members, prominent activists, writers and monks who were arrested on the first day of the coup.

Since then, the whereabouts and condition of the 76-year-old politician had remained unknown to the family until his release.

In an interview with local media outlet DVB news, Monywa Aung Shin said he was kept at a military interrogation center in Mingalardon Township and no charge was filed against him, despite his being detained for over eight months.

NLD information secretary Monywa Aung Shin.

Several NLD members and elected lawmakers remain in detention. And some of those who were included on the release list on Monday were rearrested for allegedly having connections with the parallel National Unity Government, its parliamentary committee and the People’s Defense Force, according to sources.

The junta has brought several charges, from bribery to incitement, against NLD leaders including State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, chief ministers and the party’s elected parliamentary speakers.

Some journalists freed

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the release of around a dozen journalists had been confirmed. Those included three journalists from Myitkyina Journal, one each from 74 Media and Kachin Wave, three from DVB who were sentenced to prison terms, and three from Mizzima including its co-founder Ma Thin Thin Aung and one reporter from Mon State.

Three Myitkyina Journal journalists after their release from Myitkyina Prison in Kachin State on Oct. 19.

Ko Aung Kyaw, the recently released DVB reporter, said that during his detention he was interrogated and tortured, and also forced to labor in prison, according to DVB.

He was violently arrested on March 1 after he livestreamed police and soldiers shooting at houses and destroying possessions of civilians during their crackdown. He also reported that a pregnant woman in Myeik had been beaten and her home looted by security forces.

He was convicted of incitement and sentenced to two years in June. He said that more than a hundred dissidents remained in Myeik Prison.

Writer, comedian released

Well-known comedian U Zaganar was also released on Monday, according to his friends. The comedian, who was in and out of prison under the previous military regime for his pro-democracy activism following the 1988 uprising, was detained at his home in Tamwe Township, Yangon Region in April. No reason has been given for his abduction this time.

Writer and media trainer Ma Tu Tu Tha and a member of her family who were arrested at their home in Thanlynn Township in Yangon were released on Tuesday. According to local residents, soldiers and police searched her house and arrested four, including her son, brother and one of their friends during an overnight guest inspection.

Writer Ma Tu Tu Tha is seen upon her release from Insein Prison in Yangon.

Activists among the released

According to a local media report, two ethnic Kachin youth political activists, Lum Zawng and Seng Nu Pan, were released from Myitkyina Prison on Tuesday.

Ma Shwe Yupar Linn, Ko Lin Htet, Ko Kyaw Min Tun and Ko Soe Htet Oo from the University Students Unions Alumni Force were also freed from Insein Prison on Tuesday after six months of detention for their anti-regime activism.

Student activists among those released on Oct. 19.

Junta tactic

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group recording killings and arrests of junta forces, more than 9,000 people have been arrested since the coup.

The group described the detainees’ release as a tactic of the junta to stop international condemnation.

“These releases will not end the coup,” the AAPP said in a recent report.

The group called for the unconditional release of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and all political prisoners, and the restoration of the democratically elected leaders to their positions.

As of Oct. 18, at least 1,181 people had been killed by junta forces and 131 had been tortured to death, according to the AAPP.

“Action must be taken against those who committed arbitrary arrests and torture. Moreover, the junta must take full responsibility as perpetrators, apologize and institute reparations for those arbitrarily detained and physically and mentally tortured,” the AAPP said.

The 5,600-odd people freed under Monday’s amnesty were warned that if they are rearrested they will have to serve the rest of their original sentences, as well as any additional sentence. “If they commit crimes again, they will have to serve the remaining sentences in addition [to the old one],” said a junta statement accompanying the prisoner release.

UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said in a statement released after the announcement of the amnesty that the release of detainees is clearly not because the junta has had a change of heart, but because of the pressure on it.

He urged sustained pressure to deny the junta money, weapons and legitimacy, saying this is the best way the international community can support the people of Myanmar, as the arbitrary arrest and persecution of those exercising their fundamental human rights continues.

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