Australian economist, former UK ambassador among thousands freed in Myanmar amnesty

The surprise announcement comes as the country’s military junta continues to face pressure both at home and abroad 

Myanmar’s military junta will release thousands of prisoners, including political detainees and a number of prominent foreigners, as part of a general amnesty announced on Thursday, according to state media.

Among those set to be freed are Sean Turnell, an Australian economist who has been detained since the regime seized power in February 2021, and Vicky Bowman, a former British ambassador to Myanmar who was arrested in August.

The amnesty, which was announced to mark Myanmar’s National Day, will see the release of 5,744 prisoners. Among them are some detained under Section 505a of the Penal Code for incitement in the wake of last year’s coup.

Turnell, who was an economic advisor to ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was sentenced in late September to three years in prison under the Official Secrets Act and Immigration Act by a junta-controlled court in the regime’s administrative capital Naypyitaw.

Suu Kyi and other senior leaders of her deposed ruling party, the National League for Democracy, were not included in the amnesty.

Bowman and her husband, Myanmar national Htein Lin, were both handed one-year sentences in September for immigration offenses related to the former ambassador’s alleged violation of the terms of her visa. Htein Lin will also be freed under the amnesty.

Two other foreign nationals—Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota, who was sentenced last month to ten years in prison for his contact with anti-coup protesters during the making of a documentary, and Kyaw Htay Oo, an American citizen arrested on terrorism charges—were also named in Thursday’s announcement.

All four of the foreigners included in the amnesty will be deported, according to state media reports.

The regime has also dropped charges against 11 Myanmar celebrities convicted in absentia for their role in opposing the military takeover, the reports added.

Myanmar’s military continues to face staunch opposition to its rule nearly two years after overthrowing the country’s civilian government. Like previous juntas, the current regime has announced a number of amnesties since seizing power to ease both domestic and international pressure.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the regime has arrested more than 16,232 dissidents since the coup, of whom more than 13,000 remain in junta custody. 

Myanmar Now News