By HEIN KO SOE & SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Peace activists Ma Pwint Phyu Latt and Ko Zaw Zaw Latt were among more than 250 prisoners released from Myanmar jails on Wednesday, following a presidential amnesty announced to coincide with the opening of fresh peace talks in Nay Pyi Taw.
The pair walked out the gates of Obo Prison in Mandalay in the morning and into the arms of family and friends who had assembled at the gates.
Arrested in July 2015, Zaw Zaw Latt, 29, and and Pwint Phyu Latt, 35, were convicted on immigration and unlawful association offences last year.
Before their prosecutions, nationalist hardliners had earlier called for the pair’s arrest for alleged disrespect of Buddhist monks.
Rights groups had roundly condemned the convictions as a politically motivated attempt to pander to nationalist groups in the wake of the communal riots that shook Mandalay in 2014.
A total of 186 Myanmar and 73 foreign prisoners were released from the country’s jails under the amnesty, which state media characterised as a “celebration” of the opening of the second 21st Century Panglong conference on Wednesday morning.
Among those released were Ko Hla Phone, sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Yangon last November for a series of expletive-ridden Facebook posts directed against Tatmadaw chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the continued role of the military in Myanmar’s political institutions.
Of the 259 inmates released Wednesday, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said only 10 had been incarcerated for political reasons.
“The NLD government is very similar to the last government because they released very few political prisoners alongside a number of criminal prisoners,” U Bo Kyi, the AAPP joint secretary, told Frontier.
He added that the government should listen to the popular will of Myanmar’s people and refrain from jailing its citizens on political charges.
According to the AAPP’s latest figures, 89 political prisoners remain behind bars in Myanmar, while more than 200 people are awaiting trial on political charges.
CORRECTION 5:00pm, May 24: This article has been amended to correct the number of Myanmar nationals released in Wednesday’s presidential amnesty.