The military junta in Myanmar announced today that 700 prisoners have been released. Among them are British ex-diplomat Vicky Bowman, Japanese journalist Toru Kubota and Sean Turnell, an Australian adviser to the deposed government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The fourth foreigner is a Myanmarese who has a US passport. The amnesty would be granted in celebration of Myanmar’s National Day.

    Former British ambassador Bowman and her husband Htein Lin, one of Myanmar’s best-known artists, were found guilty of violating immigration law in September and each sentenced to one year in prison. Lin was already in prison from 1998 to 2004 because of political protests.

    Myanmar artist Htein Lin. ©AFP

    Japanese documentary filmmaker and journalist Toru Kubota was sentenced to seven years in prison by a military tribunal last month for sedition and violating telecommunications law. In July, Kubota filmed protests against the military junta in the country’s largest city, Rangoon, among other things.

    Activists hold up a poster featuring documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota in Tokyo.

    Activists hold up a poster featuring documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota in Tokyo. ©AFP

    At the end of September, Turnell was sentenced to three years in prison along with Aung San Suu Kyi and three others for violating the state secrets law. Human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi won the elections in Myanmar in 2020 but was arrested in the 2021 military coup. She was sentenced to a further six years in prison for corruption at the end of October.

    Sean Turnell, an Australian economist and former adviser to former Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Sean Turnell, an Australian economist and former adviser to former Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi. © AP

    The military junta seized power on February 1, 2021 after democratic elections that the military refused to recognize. The country of nearly 56 million inhabitants was previously known as Burma. It gained independence in 1948, but has been ruled or dominated by senior military officers since a military coup in 1962. The country was relatively democratic in the years 2011-2021, thanks in part to actions by Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her commitment to human rights and democratization of the country.

    However, Aung San Suu Kyi was discredited in 2017 in connection with a violent crackdown on the country’s Rohingya minority by the army. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have since fled predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, and Suu Kyi has been accused by human rights groups of involvement in the oppression of the Rohingya.

    Aung San Suu Kyi in 2019.

    Aung San Suu Kyi in 2019. ©AFP

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