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Myanmar frees thousands of political prisoners, then re-arrests some

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People gather outside Insein Prison after a release of prisoners was announced, in Yangon, Myanmar, on October 18, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

Myanmar's junta has freed thousands of political prisoners, including deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party spokesman, but swiftly re-arrested dozens of them, according to the local media and a rights group.

Following a speech by Myanmar's junta chief, Min Aung Hlaing, on Monday about his commitment to peace and democracy, the state television announced that more than 5,600 people arrested over anti-coup protests would be freed in an amnesty on "humanitarian grounds."

The release came in the wake of the exclusion of Hlaing from a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Some activists therefore view the release as an attempt by the ruling military to rebuild its international reputation.

UN special rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews welcomed the prisoners' release and said their imprisonment had been "outrageous."

"The junta is releasing political prisoners in Myanmar not because of a change of heart, but because of pressure," he tweeted.

The junta has released prisoners several times since the coup in February.

"They came to me today and said they will take me home, that's all,” Monywa Aung Shin, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told reporters on his way home from prison. He had spent eight months in prison since his arrest on February 1, the day of the coup that overthrew Suu Kyi.

Myanmarese comedian Maung Thura "Zarganar," who is a well-known critic of Myanmar's past military governments, was also released, along with many parliamentarians and journalists.

Meanwhile, shortly after the announcement of the releases from Insein Prison, reports emerged of re-arrests. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an independent non-profit organization that has documented killings and arrests since the coup, around 40 people had been re-arrested as of Tuesday evening.

Myanmar has been gripped by turmoil since the military ousted Suu Kyi in the coup and detained her and several other senior figures from the NLD Party.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have held numerous protests against the coup leaders in the Southeast Asian country, demanding the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees. According to the AAPP, almost 850 people have been killed and thousands of others arrested by the military junta.


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