The navy in Myanmar releases greater than 23,000 prisoners as protests in opposition to the coup proceed
Around 23,314 prisoners are due to be amnestied and released on Union Day, a national holiday dedicated to unifying the country, General Min Aung Hlaing said in a statement. It is unclear what offenses the prisoners were convicted of.
While mass releases of prisoners are common on national holidays in Myanmar, this is the first such amnesty from the new junta, which took power through a coup on February 1, ousted democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and arrested key government officials.
The military justified taking control of the country by alleging widespread voting irregularities in the November 2020 elections that gave Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) a second straight landslide victory.
In a statement Friday, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) expressed “serious concern” that the amnesty should “make room for the detention of political prisoners”.
In addition to being released, prisoners sentenced to prison terms for crimes committed before January 31, 2021, will also be sentenced to prison terms, according to the military statement.
In his address, Min Aung Hlaing said the amnesty for prisoners was part of an effort to build a “democratic country with disciplines”.
There is no evidence that Suu Kyi or other ministers or officials arrested in the coup will be released under the amnesty. It is also not unlikely that the amnesty will cool the demonstrators’ anger towards the military generals.
Protests and campaigns against civil disobedience continued in cities across the country on Friday. Videos posted online and live streams showed several groups marching in the largest city, Yangon, including medical professionals and football fans.
Large gatherings are also expected at the US, Chinese and British embassies in Yangon.
The rallies have so far been largely peaceful, but the police have been registered with water cannons against demonstrators. Police were also accused of using live rounds.
A young woman named Mya Thweh Thweh Khine is in critical condition in a hospital in the capital Naypyidaw with a gunshot wound to the head Friday morning, a source with direct information about the victim told CNN.
The video of the incident, shared online, showed a young woman suddenly falling to the ground while hiding in front of a water canon during a protest.
Experts from the Amnesty International rights group’s Crisis Evidence Lab said pictures were taken near a protest in Naypyidaw on February 9, showing a police officer holding a locally made variant of a Uzi machine gun.
The rights group said the pictures were taken from a location near the Thabyegone roundabout across the street from where the young woman was shot in the head.
Amnesty said it had checked the coordinates of the picture showing an officer holding a “BA-94 or BA-93 Uzi clone made in Myanmar”. CNN was unable to independently verify the image.
The results are in direct contradiction to claims by the military that no lethal weapons were used in protests, Amnesty said.
Myanmar’s military posted on their Facebook page on February 10 that they had only used anti-riot weapons during protests near the Thabyegone roundabout and are investigating reports that two protesters had been injured.
Sam Dubberley, director of Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab, said in a press release: “This young woman’s serious injuries were caused by the Myanmar police, who fired live ammunition directly at peaceful protesters.”
Mya Thweh Thweh Khine has been a symbol of the protests ever since. Protesters hold portraits of their picture on their march.
On Thursday, Min Aung Hlaing warned protesters, who include a large segment of society, including monks and a growing number of civil servants, and urged them to get back to work.
“Those who are not part of their duties are asked to resume their duties immediately in the interests of the country and the people, without focusing on the emotions,” he said.
Min Aung Hlaing, in a statement from the ruling military’s official intelligence service, blamed the recent absence of government employees for the harassment by “unscrupulous persons”.
In response to ongoing protests, the country’s military has attempted to restrict access to the Internet and intelligence services, and to enact a potential new cybersecurity law that observers fear may further restrict the flow of information.
On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden announced that the US would introduce sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders following last week’s coup.
In brief remarks, the president said he had approved a new executive order that would allow the US to “immediately sanction the military leaders who led the coup, their business interests and close family members.” He said they would identify targets for those sanctions this week.
Biden also called on the military junta to release detained protesters and civilian leaders, including Suu Kyi and Win Myint, and to stop crackdown on protesters.
CNN’s Helen Regan contributed to the coverage.