Foreign detainees return home after Myanmar prisoner amnesty

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Australian economist Sean Turnell and Japanese journalist Toru Kubota returned home on Friday after an amnesty by the Myanmar junta for thousands of prisoners, including four foreigners, arrested since a military coup that has rocked the Southeast Asian nation.

Turnell, a former economic adviser to deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, landed in Melbourne early Friday. His wife, Ha Vu, released a statement saying she was “overwhelmed with joy” that her “beloved husband” was back home, Australia’s TBEN network reported.

Earlier, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong tweeted a photo of a skinny Turnell, who had been detained for 650 days, along with the diplomatic head of the Myanmar mission. Turnell had served a three-year prison sentence under Myanmar’s government secrecy law.

On Thursday, MyanmarThe state-run MRTV showed images of the released aliens signing their exit documents with officials. An announcement in the state media said the four individuals have been released”both on humanitarian grounds and on diplomatic relations between Myanmar and their respective countries.”

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The British government confirmed the release of Vicky Bowman, a former British ambassador to Myanmar, who had been sentenced to one year for an alleged immigration offence. Her husband, a Burmese artist, Htein Lin, was also pardoned from his one-year prison sentence.

Speaking on the sidelines of the APEC summit at a press conference in Bangkok on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the release of US-Burmese national Kyaw Htay Oo, who he said had been “unjustly detained” and charged for more time in Myanmar was locked up. than 14 months.

Japanese journalist Kubota, who was arrested in July while filming a protest in Yangon, was serving a 10-year prison sentence. He arrived back in Tokyo early Friday, Japanese media reported.

Toru Kubota, a Japanese filmmaker released by Myanmar authorities, addresses the media upon his arrival at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, November 18, 2022.
CREDIT: TBEN via Reuters

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said on Thursday a total of 5,774 prisoners, including 712 political prisoners, were released on the occasion of Myanmar’s National Victory Day, which commemorates the beginning of the unrest against British colonial rule in 1920.

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The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Friday that 985 inmates, including the four foreigners, have been released from Insein Prison in Yangon and 485 from Mandalay Central Prison.

The newspaper had issued a “pardon order” for three prominent opposition figures: former minister of the office of the state adviser Kyaw Tint Swe; former member of the Union Election Commission Than Htay; and former legislator and chief minister of the Tanintharyi region, Lei Lei Maw.

There was also a notice of withdrawal of criminal cases against 11 prominent artists and cultural figures.

Analysts say the amnesty comes as the junta seeks to placate the international community, particularly the Southeast Asian bloc, and win support for its plan for elections next year.

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The junta, which seized power from an elected civilian government in February 2021 after the military-backed party underperformed in national elections, has persecuted its political opponents. Suu Kyi is serving 26 years in prison on what are widely regarded as politically motivated charges. The military takeover has led to an uprising on several fronts. Local organizations say 1.7 million people have been displaced by the conflict and more than 2,300 civilians have died.

The release of detainees comes just as Indonesia takes over as the rotating president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Indonesia was expected to take a tougher stance on the junta than 2022 ASEAN president Cambodia, who sent a special envoy to Myanmar twice this year without making progress in implementing the five-point consensus, which aimed to promote peace and restore democracy in the country.

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