Myanmar junta prisoner release ‘cynical’

29 November 2022
Myanmar junta prisoner release ‘cynical’
Picture taken on August 5, 2010 shows Myanmar singer Saw Phoe Kwar posing at his house in Yangon. Photo: AFP

Civil Society Organisation Progressive Voice has said that this month’s release of 161 political prisoners, including high-profile foreigners, should not detract from the atrocities that the Myanmar junta continues to carry out against the people of Myanmar.

It points out that those who oppose the junta in any way remain vulnerable to arrest, torture or extrajudicial killings, and innocent people are still the victims of indiscriminate attacks against them.

The junta announced a release order, published on Myanmar National Day, 17 November 2022, that 5,774 prisoners would be released to mark Myanmar’s National Day.

Of these 5,774, the monitoring group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), documented that 161 were political prisoners. High-profile individuals released include 88 Generation leader, Ko Mya Aye, and filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi.

Four foreign nationals were also released including Burmese American and former political prisoner of the 88 generation, Kyaw Htay Oo and Australian economist and advisor to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Sean Turnell.

Many innocent people remain in prison, including activists, journalists, celebrities, writers, and thousands of ordinary people. In fact, there are more political prisoners – nearly 13,000 – than ever before, according to Burma Campaign UK.

Progressive Voice points out that this is a typical tactic used not only by this junta, but previous military juntas often timed in anticipation of high-profile diplomatic occasions.

While there is speculation that the junta was attempting to garner goodwill ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Thailand, this does not disguise that these people should never have been in prison in the first place. Progressive Voice points out that they were originally arrested, charged and imprisoned on trumped up charges because the junta viewed them as a threat to their illegitimate and failed power grab.

As US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken stated regarding the release, “It is one bright spot in what is otherwise an incredibly dark time, where we see things going from bad to worse in Burma.”

That those Myanmar nationals who remain in the country can be rearrested at any time is an ongoing physical and psychological threat that the junta has shown it is willing to go through with. This is evidenced

in the example of the ethnic Karen reggae singer, Saw Phoe Kwar, who was rearrested within one day of his release, and sent back to prison to serve another year of unjust punishment.

This is not a new tactic, and the conditional release with threat and actualization of rearrest is part of the junta’s psychological warfare. As Ko Bo Kyi, co-founder of AAPP, wrote after a previous mass release in October 2021, “re-arrests are motivated by the desire of the military to psychologically intimidate others.”

Progressive Voice says that it is disappointing that the ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar, “considers this mass release as an important gesture in the right direction to create a conducive environment for the commencement of a dialogue process among all concerned parties in Myanmar.”

This fawning over potential compromise is wrong. The junta has no intention of compromise. This is evidenced by the continued atrocities that the junta commits on a daily basis.

In the same week that the release occurred the junta launched airstrikes in Karen State against a mining operation, killing three miners and injuring a further six people.

In northern Rakhine State, the use of heavy artillery in two villages by the junta killed ten people, including two children as they shelled a child’s naming ceremony in one of the villages.

Junta raids in Sagaing Region in the past week have left 14 people, including a 14 year old boy dead while in Karenni State, junta shelling hit a nursery, killing a 5 year old girl, injuring a 9-month old baby and injuring several others.

The deaths of these children add to a growing tally of hundreds of children murdered by the junta in their campaign of terror against the people of Myanmar. The passing of World Children’s Day on 20 November brings home the senselessness and barbarity of these attacks.

They are not an indication that the junta is in the business of “important gestures” in the right direction.

The statement by the ASEAN Special Envoy is therefore a worrying sign of ASEAN’s lack of coordinated action regarding the Myanmar junta, according to Progressive Voice.

it says that ASEAN as a bloc, as well as individual member states must not lose sight of the atrocities and horrific terror that the illegitimate military junta is inflicting on the population. Rather, it must ditch the failed Five Point Consensus, include the legitimate representatives of Myanmar – the National Unity Government – in all summits and platforms, and support a resolution at the UN Security Council.

Now is not the time to pander to the junta’s cynical releases of a handful of the many thousands it is illegitimately keeping behind bars. Rather, it must see through such ploys and ramp up the pressure so that Myanmar can achieve genuine change.