Myanmar to release 2,000 prisoners, drops charges against actors

Myanmar actor and model Paing Takhon, center, was among those detained by authorities after speaking out against the military coup [File: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA]
Myanmar actor and model Paing Takhon, center, was among those detained by authorities after speaking out against the military coup [File: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA]

Myanmar’s military authorities plan to release about 2,000 people from jails across the country, according to reports on Wednesday, as state television said the generals were dropping charges against actors and other celebrities who took part in the anti-coup protests.

At least 700 of the prisoners will be released from Yangon’s Insein jail, prison chief Zaw Zaw told the Reuters news agency.

The prison chief, however, declined to specify who would be released from the country’s vast prison complex where some of those who have taken part in the mass demonstrations have been taken.

Rumours that prisoners would be released began on Saturday, as some family members of detainees gathered outside the prison. Hundreds of people were already waiting outside the prison on Wednesday morning in anticipation that some inmates would be freed.

In April, the military rulers ordered the release of more than 23,000 prisoners from jails across the country under a New Year amnesty, although few of those arrested after the February 1 coup were included.

 

The news came a day after the country’s military government dropped charges against 24 celebrities who had been declared wanted for incitement for their part in the mass rallies and civil disobedience against the generals’ power grab.

Actors, sportspeople, social media influencers, doctors and teachers have been among hundreds of people listed as wanted for opposing the military that seized power from the elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Some of the 120 wanted celebrities include singers Lin Lin and Chit Thu Wai, actors Phway Phway, Eaindra Kyaw Zin and Pyay Ti Oo and model May Myat Noe. Actor and model Paing Takhon, who is famous both in Myanmar and Thailand, was arrested in April, while actor Pyay Ti Oo and his wife Eaindra Kyaw Zin surrendered to police.

The army run television channel, Myawaddy, said the charges against the 24 had been dropped because their involvement was the result of “external factors”.

Since taking power, the military has struggled to govern in the face of daily protests, and strikes that have paralysed official and private business. There has also been an increase in local rebellions.

Arrest warrants have been issued for nearly 2,000 people since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which is monitoring the situation. It has said more than 5,200 people are currently detained.

‘Stay united’

Meanwhile, the judge in the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi rejected a motion on Tuesday to dismiss evidence central to a case that could see her jailed for up to two years for incitement, her legal team said.

The 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been held in detention since February 1.

She is accused of a range of offences ranging from bribery and violating coronavirus rules to illegally possessing two-way radios and incitement to commit crimes against the state – allegations her lawyers reject.

The head of her legal team, Khin Maung Zaw told Reuters the prosecution had entered evidence he believed was inadmissible, but the judge allowed it.

The evidence includes letters the prosecution says were issued by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the days after the coup which were widely shared on social media.

Aung San Suu Kyi, seated left, and several top civilian officials have been held in detention since February 1 military coup [File: MRTV via Reuters TV]

One urged embassies not to recognise the military government, among several documents that Khin Maung Zaw said were signed by neither Aung San Suu Kyi nor her co-defendants, deposed President Win Myint and former Naypyidaw mayor Myo Aung.

“There is no sign on the documents. They extracted the document from the internet,” he said.

“They didn’t include how they extracted the documents, what tech they used to extract the documents … they just submitted it at court. That’s the reason we objected.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s communication with the public has been via her lawyers.

Legal team member Min Min Soe told reporters that she had urged people to “Please stay united. Please be united.”

 

Min Min Soe also said that Aung San Suu Kyi heard testimony on Tuesday that she flouted coronavirus restrictions during the November elections, which her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide.

In an interview with Russian news agency Sputnik published on Monday, coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing said Aung San Suu Kyi’s fate was not in his hands.

“I am not a judge. I cannot say what will happen. I cannot give any orders on what to do with her,” he was quoted as saying.

“Judges will take care of that, in accordance with the law, and then judges will decide what will happen to her, as the law requires it.”

As of Wednesday, pockets of protests still continue across the country demanding an end to the military rule and the release of detained activists and opposition leaders.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters

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