Former British diplomat and Japanese filmmaker among foreign prisoners to be released in Myanmar

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

Australian Sean Turnell, Japanese Toru Kubota, Briton Vicky Bowman and American Kyaw Htay Oo, along with 11 local Myanmar celebrities, were among the 5,774 prisoners who were freed, Myanmar’s state broadcaster MRTV reported. .

The imprisonment of foreign nationals has been a source of friction between Myanmar’s rulers and their home governments, which have lobbied for their release.

Japan’s foreign ministry confirmed it had been briefed on Myanmar’s plans to release Kubota, but had no further details other than that the 26-year-old Tokyo-based documentary maker would be in healthy.

The British Embassy in Yangon said Bowman had not yet been released from prison. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had no immediate comment and the US Embassy in Yangon did not immediately respond to a request for information.

Sean Turnell, an associate professor of economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, was arrested by security forces at a hotel in Yangon. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Associated Press)

Turnell, 58, an associate professor of economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, was arrested by security forces at a hotel in Yangon. He was sentenced in September to three years in prison for violating the Official Secrets Act and the Immigration Act.

“As a friend of Sean Turnell and fellow economist, I am delighted to hear of his release,” Sydney economist Tim Harcourt said in an email.

“A great relief”

He thanked the Australian government, campaigners and Turnell’s friends and colleagues who had pushed for his release, and said he looked forward to his longtime friend returning home to Sydney.

“It’s a huge relief for his wonderful wife, Ha, his sister, his father and the whole family,” Harcourt said.

“Sean’s heart was with the people of Myanmar to lift them out of poverty and help Myanmar reach its economic potential. He should never have been jailed for doing his professional duty as an economist involved in development economics.

Protesters hold images of Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar in February 2021. Democratically elected Suu Kyi was overthrown in a military coup. (Getty Images)

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a rights watchdog, 16,232 people have been detained for political reasons in Myanmar since the military overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February. 2021.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the takeover, leading to nationwide protests that the military government has suppressed with deadly force, sparking armed resistance that some UN experts are now calling a civil war .

Among those arrested, 13,015 remained in custody on Wednesday, the AAPP reported. Additionally, at least 2,465 civilians were killed by security forces during the same period, according to the group, although the number is believed to be much higher.

Crackdown on protest coverage

Kubota was arrested on July 30 by plainclothes police in Yangon after taking pictures and videos of a small flash protest against the military. He was found guilty last month by the prison court of incitement for participating in the protest and other charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Since taking power, the military has cracked down on coverage of protests, raided the media, arrested dozens of journalists and revoked the licenses of at least a dozen outlets.

Most of those detained are charged with incitement for allegedly causing fear, spreading false news or agitating against a government employee.

Some of the closed media have continued to operate without a license and many Burmese journalists work underground, moving from one safe house to another, hiding in remote border areas or going into exile.

Kubota was the fifth foreign journalist detained in Myanmar after the military took over. US citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, who worked for local publications, and independents Robert Bociaga from Poland and Yuki Kitazumi from Japan were eventually deported before having to serve full prison sentences.

Bowman, 56, a former British ambassador to Myanmar, was arrested along with her husband, a Myanmar national, in Yangon in August. She was sentenced in September to a one-year prison term by the prison court for failing to register her residence.

Kyaw Htay Oo, a naturalized American, returned to his native Myanmar in 2017, according to media reports. He was arrested in September 2021 for terrorism and has been detained ever since.

Myanmar did not release many details about the other prisoners who were being released, but almost all were believed to be held on charges related to the protests, including section 505(A) of Myanmar’s penal code. , which makes it a crime to broadcast comments that create public disorder or fear or spread false news, and punishable by up to three years in prison.

Also among those released were Kyaw Tint Swe, a former Union Minister for the State Councilor’s Office, Than Htay, a former member of the Union Election Commission and Lae Lae Maw, a former Chief Minister. from the Tanintharyi region who had been imprisoned for 30 years. years for corruption since 2020 under the government of Suu Kyi, announced MRTV.

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