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One of the prisoners being released in Myanmar, Vicky Bowman (pictured with her husband, Burmese artist Htein Lin, and their baby Aurora). Photo: SCMP

Myanmar releasing four foreign nationals among broad amnesty of nearly 6,000 prisoners

  • Australian Sean Turnell, Japan’s Toru Kubota, Briton Vicky Bowman, American Kyaw Htay Oo, and 11 Myanmar celebrities are among 5,774 prisoners being released
  • 16,232 people have been detained on political charges in Myanmar since the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi last year, rights group says
Myanmar

Myanmar’s military-controlled government announced on Thursday that it was releasing and deporting an Australian academic, a Japanese filmmaker, an ex-British diplomat and an American as part of a broad prisoner amnesty to mark the country’s National Victory Day.

Australian Sean Turnell, Japan’s Toru Kubota, Briton Vicky Bowman, and American Kyaw Htay Oo, as well as 11 local Myanmar celebrities, were among a total of 5,774 prisoners who were being released, Myanmar’s state-run MRTV reported.

The imprisonment of the foreign nationals had been a source of friction between Myanmar’s leaders and their home governments, which had been lobbying for their release.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights monitoring organisation, 16,232 people have been detained on political charges in Myanmar since the army ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February last year.

Of those arrested, 13,015 were still in detention as of Wednesday, the AAPP reported. Additionally, at least 2,465 civilians have been killed by security forces in the same period, the group says, though the number is thought to be far higher.

Amnesty International Australia’s Tim O’Connor welcomed the decision to release Turnell, saying like many others, he should never have been arrested or jailed.

“Amnesty continues to call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their human rights”, he said. “Thousands of people jailed since the coup in Myanmar have done nothing wrong”.

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Japan’s top government spokesperson, Hirokazu Matsuno, told reporters Kubota was due to leave Myanmar on a flight Thursday night and could be in Japan as soon as Friday. He said officials believe the 26-year-old Tokyo-based documentary filmmaker is in good health.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong tweeted that she welcomed reports of Turnell being released, but would not comment further for the time being, and the US Embassy in Yangon referred queries to Washington.

Sean Turnell, 58, an associate professor in economics at Sydney’s Macquarie University who had been serving as an adviser to Suu Kyi, was arrested by security forces at a hotel in Yangon just days after last year’s military takeover. He was sentenced in September to three years in prison for violating the country’s official secrets law and immigration law. Suu Kyi and three of her former Cabinet members were convicted in the same trial, which was held in a closed court, with their lawyers barred by a gag order from taking about the proceedings.

Relatives stand outside Insein prison, Yangon, as they wait for the release of prisoners. Photo: AFP

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the takeover, which led to nationwide protests that the military government quashed with deadly force, triggering armed resistance that some UN experts now characterise as civil war.

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