Myanmar’s military is to release 6,000 prisoners including a former UK ambassador, a Japanese filmmaker and an Australian adviser to the country’s ousted leader.
Ex-diplomat Vicky Bowman and Toru Kubota were jailed earlier this year while Sean Turnell was detained shortly after the 2021 coup.
The military junta said the pardons were to mark Myanmar National Day.
The military has arrested more than 16,000 people since seizing power.
It overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in February 2021 – sparking huge protests across the country and a widespread resistance movement.
Ms Bowman served as the UK’s envoy to Myanmar between 2002 and 2006, and was running the Yangon-based Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) at the time of her arrest.
A fluent Burmese speaker, she is a well-known member of Myanmar’s small international community. Her husband Htein Lin is a former political prisoner.
The couple were detained when they returned to the city from a home they have in Shan State. Military authorities charged them both with failing to register her as living at a different address.
However the case was likely to have been about wider political concerns than immigration offences, for which foreigners are rarely prosecuted in Myanmar.
“Thousands of people jailed since the coup in Myanmar have done nothing wrong and should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Amnesty International’s Australia Impact Director Tim O’Connor, adding that the release should not “deter international focus from the brutality of the Myanmar military’s activities since the coup in February 2021.”
“Under military rule in Myanmar, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and secretive, closed-door trials have become routine,” he said, calling for “anyone who cannot be charged with a recognisable” crime to be released.
Mr Turnell meanwhile was detained in Yangon in February 2021, days after the military launched its coup, and was jailed for three years under the Official Secrets Act.
He was a close adviser of ousted opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who since her overthrow has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison on a range of charges.
At the time, the Australian government said it rejected the court’s ruling in Mr Turnell’s case, noting their citizen had been tried in a closed military court.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong hailed reports of Mr Turnell’s release.
“We welcome reports in relation to Professor Sean Turnell,” she posted on Twitter. “Professor Turnell continues to be our first priority. As such, we will not be commenting further at this stage.”
Documentary maker Toru Kobuta, 26, was arrested in July near an anti-government rally in Yangon. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on sedition charges and for violating the electronic communications law. According to Reporters Without Borders, at least 68 journalists were detained in Myanmar before today’s amnesty.
Kubota, who first arrived in Myanmar in July, was filming a “documentary featuring a Myanmar person”, a friend of his was reported to have said earlier this year.
According to filmmaker site Film Freeway, Kubota started his career when he met a Rohingya refugee in Japan in 2014, and subsequently made “several films about refugees and ethnic issues in Myanmar”.
Also among those released was Kyaw Tint Swe, a former minister and a close aide to Aung San Suu Kyi, state media said.
The military in Myanmar has been accused of widespread human rights violations since seizing power. According to monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 2,400 people have been killed by the military since the coup.