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Myanmar releases political prisoners, hundreds of them

The recently elected democratic government of Myanmar releases political prisoners, 200 of them, beginning its office with a gesture of goodwill.

The newly elected president of Myanmar, U Htin Kyaw, has released more than 200 political prisoners. The order comes weeks after the new government’s appointment and days after it took office on the 4th of April.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has won a historic landslide victory in the parliamentary elections, Myanmar's first openly contested polls in 25 years, following decades of military rule © Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has won a historic landslide victory in the parliamentary elections, Myanmar’s first openly contested polls in 25 years, following decades of military rule © Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

In early April Aung San Suu Kyi, who effectively steers the government, had announced that Myanmar’s new leadership considered freeing political prisoners a priority, and planned to release all remaining political prisoners and activists detained by the country’s former military leaders as soon as possible. The Nobel Peace Prize winner currently holds the post of State Counselor, created exclusively for her and equivalent to that of Prime Minister. This position renders the veteran democracy advocate de facto leader of Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi herself spent fifteen years as a political prisoner during the country’s former military rule and her Party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is packed with people who have also undergone imprisonment or confinement because of their political views.

U Htin Kyaw ©  Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images
U Htin Kyaw © Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

Among those recently released by the government are student activists and journalists. Rights groups estimate that when the government was appointed last month there were about 100 political detainees left in prisons and 400 more pending trial.

The president announced that the pardon was aimed at promoting “national reconciliation and peace of mind” as part of the celebrations for Myanmar’s New Year, held on the 17th of April. “In order to give satisfaction to the majority of the people, we will continue to try to release political prisoners, political activists and students facing trials related to politics,” President Htin Kyaw said addressing the country in occasion of the national celebrations. “We also have to try to avoid such arrests in the future,” he added.

Aung Sun Suu Kyi campaigns in her constituency © Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images
Aung Sun Suu Kyi campaigns in her constituency © Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

In order for this to happen, the country needs to undergo changes to its current legal framework. In fact whilst the releases have been widely applauded, key human rights actors have stressed that the new government still needs to repeal and amend the numerous existing laws that prevent Myanmar people from fully exercising their basic rights.

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