It has been reported that Myanmar’s ruling military junta will release a former British ambassador, an Australian economist and a Japanese journalist under an amnesty – along with more than 6,000 other prisoners.
State media reported Thursday that Vicky Bowman, Sean Turnell and Toru Kubota are among the 5,774 male and 676 female prisoners released in celebration of Myanmar’s National Day.
The pardon was granted on “humanitarian grounds,” according to media reports, in the wake of criticism of the junta at a recent summit of Southeast Asian leaders.
Myanmar has been in political turmoil since the military staged a coup in February 2021 by arresting civilian leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi – who remains in prison amid a series of charges that critics say are politically motivated.
Since then, the SCAF has arrested thousands of people for protesting against military rule, as well as a handful of foreigners.
Bowman, who served as the UK’s top diplomat in Myanmar between 2002 and 2006, was arrested and charged with immigration with her Burmese husband in August and sent to Yangon’s notorious Insein prison. Reuters reported that her husband, artist Hattin Lin, will also be released in an amnesty.
Australian Turnell, who worked as an economic adviser to Suu Kyi’s cabinet, was arrested shortly after the coup and sentenced to three years in prison in September for violating the country’s Official State Secrets Act in a ruling that was found guilty by the Australian government.
Japanese documentary maker Kubota was sentenced to 10 years in prison in October on charges including violating immigration laws for entering the country on a tourist visa to film protests.
The Japanese embassy in Myanmar said on Thursday that authorities had informed it that Kubota would be released later in the day.
This is not the first time that the Myanmar military has released political prisoners. In October 2021, the military released more than 5,600 people who had been arrested for protesting against military rule.
The news comes after Southeast Asian leaders gathered in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, for the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where conflict in Myanmar was among the topics discussed.
The military council faced mounting criticism within the region after its failure to implement a peace plan negotiated in April last year.
Myanmar remains part of the ASEAN bloc despite the objections of global human rights groups. But SCAF officials have been prevented from sending representatives at the political level to major events.