On October 18, the nation’s military announced a mass release slated to free over 1,316 detainees and drop charges against 4,320 dissidents, some of which were fugitives. The junta did not release a schedule structuring this release, with relatives flocking to prison gates across the country. Among the first groups of prisoners freed were 13 media workers. Recent reports place the number of journalists who remain imprisoned at 38.
According to a social media post from the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), three of its journalists, Min Nyo, Thet Nain Win and Aung Kyaw were released on October 18. Mizzima administrator Ko James, cofounder Daw Thin Thin Aung and reporter Ko Zaw Zaw were also released. On October 19, Htet Myat Thu, photojournalist for the Voice of Thanbyuzayat was freed along with journalist and author, Tu Tu Tha, whose family confirmed her release from Yangon’s Insein prison.
Five Kachin-based journalists were released from Myitkyina prison on October 20, including Myo Myat Myat Pan, Ko A Jal and Christopher from Myitkyina News Journal, Ma Chan Bu from the 74 Media, and Ko Larol from Kachin Wave Media.
Reportedly, only those convicted or charged for incitement relating to anti-junta protests will be considered for release by authorities, meaning that those detained for ‘terrorism’ relating to anti-junta activities will remain imprisoned.
The mass release follows the junta chief’s exclusion at an upcoming summit by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional bloc, with many seeing the amnesty as an attempt to repair Myanmar’s international reputation. Subsequent reports suggest that approximately forty prisoners were released only to be reimprisoned shortly thereafter.
In a statement on Twitter, United Nations Special Rapporteur, Tom Andrews, said that the junta’s decision to release the prisoners is “not a change of heart” but evidence that the administration is not immune to international pressure. “While today’s announcement by the Myanmar junta of the release of over 5,000 political prisoners is welcome, it is important to remember that junta forces detained these individuals illegally for exercising their fundamental human rights,” Andrews said. “It is outrageous that any were arbitrarily detained in the first place.”
According to Myanmar advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), over 7,000 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup on February 1, 2021. In a statement, the AAPP expressed concerns that the mass release was intended as a distraction for foreign governments. “The junta will continue to refuse being transparent about the individual persons released, and who remains detained,” the statement said.
The IFJ said: “While the IFJ welcomes the release of the 13 media workers from arbitrary detainment, the Myanmar juntas continues to imprison dozens of journalists and activists and it is evident that this act of so-called ‘amnesty’ was precipitated by a blatant contravention of international human rights. The IFJ urges Myanmar’s military authorities to immediately release all journalists and media workers who remain unlawfully detained.”