Yangon's Insein Prison is seen from an aerial view. (Frontier)
Yangon's Insein Prison is seen from an aerial view. (Frontier)

Myanmar frees 600 protesters detained in anti-military rallies

A senior official at Insein Prison said 360 men and 268 women were released from the Yangon facility on Wednesday, the same day a “silent strike” against military rule closed down shops and quieted the streets of cities across the country.

By AFP

Myanmar freed more than 600 people locked up in relation to anti-military demonstrations on Wednesday, amid fresh outrage at the junta’s brutal crackdown on protesters.

The regime has unleashed a deadly wave of violence as it struggles to quell nationwide protests against the February 1 ouster and arrest of civilian leader Daw Aung Suu Kyi.

The 75-year-old Nobel laureate was due to have a court hearing on Wednesday in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, on criminal charges that could see her permanently barred from political office.

But her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said the hearing was adjourned until April 1 because of problems with video conferencing caused by a junta-imposed internet shutdown.

In the commercial hub of Yangon more than 600 people held for protesting against the coup were released from Insein Prison.

“We released 360 men and 268 women from Insein prison today,” a senior prison official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Lawyer Khin Maung Myint, who was at Insein prison for the hearing of two other clients, said 16 busloads of people left the jail at 10am local.

“They were sent to related police stations to go back home … Some clients called me [after] informing me of their release,” he told AFP.

AP photographer Thein Zaw, 32 – who was arrested last month while covering a protest – was among those freed. 

“I’m now on my way back home to meet with my mum. I’m in good health,” Thein Zaw told AFP.

“The police officer who sued me withdrew his charge – that’s why they released me unconditionally.”

He had been charged with “spreading false news”, along with five other journalists who were arrested the same day.

They are from Myanmar Now, Myanmar Photo Agency, 7Day News, Zee Kwet Online news and a freelancer.

It remains unclear if their charges have been dropped as well. 

Local media showed images of the prisoners on the buses flashing the three-fingered salute – a sign of resistance for the anti-coup movement – as people waiting outside the prison waved at them and returned the gesture. 

Activists called for a nationwide “Silent Strike” on Wednesday, and streets were bare in the cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw.

In the southern city of Myeik, rows of dolls were set up along roads, holding up tiny signs reading “We need democracy” and “We wish for Mother Suu to be healthy.”

Aung San Suu Kyi graft claims

Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer said that on Wednesday morning there was a large police presence outside the court gates and lawyers were not being allowed into the building.

Khin Maung Zaw said he has still not been able to speak to his client privately.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces several criminal charges, including for owning unlicensed walkie-talkies and violating coronavirus restrictions by staging a campaign event in 2020.

She is also being investigated for corruption allegations.

The military junta alleges the detained chief minister of Yangon confessed to giving Aung San Suu Kyi $600,000 in cash, along with more than 11 kilograms ($680,000 worth) of gold.

The junta has also been targeting the media.

Thein Zaw, a photographer for Associated Press, who has been charged with “spreading false news” is also due for a second legal hearing at a court in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison on Wednesday.

If convicted he faces up to three years jail.

He was arrested while covering a protest late last month alongside other reporters.

More than 40 journalists and photographers have been arrested since the coup last month, according to a local monitoring group.

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