Military frees four foreigners as part of a prisoner amnesty to mark Myanmar’s National Victory Day, reports say.
Myanmar’s military has released an Australian academic, a Japanese filmmaker and an ex-British diplomat as part of a prisoner amnesty, according to media reports.
Major General Zaw Min Tun told the Voice of Myanmar and Yangon Media Group on Thursday that Sean Turnell, Toru Kubota and Vicky Bowman, as well as an unidentified American, had been released and deported.
There was no immediate independent confirmation of the moves.
Turnell, 58, an associate professor in economics at Sydney’s Macquarie University who worked as an economic adviser to elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested by security forces at a hotel in Yangon shortly after the military seized power in a coup in February 2021.
He was sentenced in September to three years in prison for violating the country’s official secrets and immigration laws.
Kubota, a 26-year-old Tokyo-based documentary filmmaker, was arrested on July 30 by plainclothes police in Yangon after taking images and videos last year of a small flash protest against the military takeover.
He was convicted last month by the prison court of incitement for participating in the protest and other charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Bowman, 56, a former United Kingdom ambassador to Myanmar, was arrested with her husband, a Myanmar national, in Yangon in August.
She was given a one-year prison term in September for failing to register her residence.
Myanmar has been in political turmoil since last year’s coup, after generals arrested civilian leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi in early morning raids on February 1, 2021.
The power grab led to mass protests, which have evolved into an armed resistance to the military’s rule. Myanmar’s generals have responded with force, killing at least 2,465 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a civil society group.
A further 13,000 people have been detained, the group said.
Myanmar Now, an independent news outlet, cited the military council as saying the pardons were granted because it was Myanmar’s National Day.
“On National day, the military council announced that almost 6,000 prisoners were released. Among those were four foreigners and 11 celebrities,” the news report said.
Analysts say Myanmar’s military may be responding to pressure from Southeast Asian heads of government, who condemned last week the generals’s lack of progress on a peace plan agreed last year.
At a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), leaders called for measurable progress on the Five Point Consensus or risk being barred from the bloc’s meetings. They also agreed on a need for “concrete, practical and measurable indicators with a specific timeline”.
Zachary Abuza, an expert on Southeast Asian politics, said Myanmar’s “junta fears a harder line” from ASEAN, including concerns that members of the bloc may support Malaysia’s calls to reject an election the generals plan to hold next year.
The release of the four foreigners “is a preemptive move to encourage engagement,” tweeted the professor at the National War College in Washington, DC.
Bowman, Turnell & Kubota to be released by #Myanmar authorities this hour. Junta fears a harder line from #Indonesia & #Malaysian FM Saifuddin’s call to reject the 8/23 elections from gaining strength amongst other ASEAN members. This is a preemptive move to encourage engagement.
— Zachary Abuza (@ZachAbuza) November 17, 2022