YANGON—A presidential pardon on Friday saw the release of at least two political prisoners with the President’s Office saying there are more releases in the pipeline with another amnesty planned.
President U Win Myint pardoned 6,948 prisoners on Friday in the second amnesty this month, to mark the Myanmar New Year. On April 17, more than 9,500 prisoners were freed under a presidential pardon in the first amnesty of the year.
Presidential pardons see prisoners released each year on significant occasions in Myanmar, particularly around the New Year.
The President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay told reporters in Naypyitaw that a majority of those released under the second amnesty were in prison for drug-related cases and that many of them were convicted for possessing small amounts of drugs. He said the move was influenced by Myanmar’s adoption of a new policy of dealing with drug addiction through a treatment-oriented approach, rather than legal punishment and imprisonment of drug users. This comes after last year’s amendment of the decades-old Narcotics Law.
The two known political prisoners released on Friday are Lum Zawng and Zau Jat of the Kachin National Social Development Association who had been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in December and fined 500,000 kyats ($333) for defaming the Myanmar military. They were charged after participating in peaceful protests demanding the government help villagers who had become trapped amid fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and the military. A third activist, Nang Pu, was released from prison on April 5 because of her deteriorating health condition.
The spokesperson said on Friday that more 6,000 prisoners will soon be released in a third amnesty. He said ethnic armed group members and those involved in political cases would be released, but he didn’t specify when.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), more than 40 political prisoners are currently serving time in prisons around the country, including two jailed Reuters journalists Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo. The AAPP says a further 300 individuals are currently facing trial under political charges inside and outside prison.
U Zaw Htay said State leaders are reviewing the AAPP’s list and making serious considerations regarding the upcoming releases.
The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Myo contributed to this story from Naypyitaw.