Responding to news that Myanmar’s military authorities have pardoned 2,153 prisoners jailed under a law that makes it illegal to encourage dissent against the military, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns Ming Yu Hah said:
“This long overdue release should mark the first step towards the immediate release of all individuals who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly or other human rights. Amnesty International remains deeply concerned about the further thousands of individuals who are still unjustly languishing in prisons across the country where they face torture and other ill-treatment.
“Anyone imprisoned for peacefully opposing the military coup in Myanmar should never have been jailed in the first place. Upon release they should be provided with the necessary medical, psychological and social support to help them recover from their ordeal. Peaceful dissent is not a crime, it is a human right.
“Prisoners released today were charged and sentenced under a law specifically used by the military to smother dissent after the coup. However, the military warned it would detain them again if they are deemed to have committed the same ‘crime’ in the future, which effectively places a chilling effect on many people wanting to exercise their basic rights and freedoms.”
Myanmar’s military authorities on Wednesday pardoned 2,153 prisoners serving sentences under the 505(a) section of the criminal code. The law makes it illegal to promote dissent against the military and has been widely enforced since the military coup on 1 February 2021.
The military said in a statement it was pardoning the prisoners on “humanitarian” grounds to mark a Buddhist holiday, but that those who reoffended would be jailed again. It did not provide names of those released.
Myanmar’s military has arrested more than 21,000 people since the coup and more than 17,000 are still detained, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The detainees include many senior leaders of the ousted civilian government as well as journalists, human rights defenders and medical workers.
Since the coup on 1 February 2021, Amnesty International has documented widespread human rights violations, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity as part of the military’s crackdown on the opposition across the country.
Amnesty International’s 2022 report “15 Days Felt like 15 Years” documented the situation after the coup inside prisons and interrogation facilities. It showed that torture and other ill-treatment was routinely used to punish dissent.