Myanmar junta releases thousands of political prisoners, including U.S. citizen

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Nov. 17 (UPI) — Myanmar’s junta government said it will deport four foreign nationals, including a U.S. citizen, who were among thousands released from jail on Thursday in mass amnesty.

The military said the release of nearly 6,000 prisoners was being made to mark Myanmar’s National Day, The Irrawaddy reported.

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Myanmar has been under international scrutiny and sanctions since the military junta seized power on Feb. 1, 2021, and jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The U.S. State Department identified the released American citizen as Kyaw Htay Oo, who has been detained for more than 14 months.

“We extend our deep appreciation to our allies and partners who joined us in pressing Burma’s military regime to release,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, referring to Myanmar but its old name.

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Australian economist Sean Turnell, a former British ambassador and a Japanese filmmaker were the other three foreigners to be released.

Turnell had been a key economic adviser to the country’s civilian leader Suu Kyi when he was jailed days after the coup. Turnell received a three-year sentence in late September on charges of espionage.

Canberra’s foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, confirmed in a statement Thursday that the economist has returned home and has been reunited with his wife and family following 21 months of detention.

“His return will be an enormous relief to his family, friends and many supporters in Australia and across the region,” she said.

Turnell arrived in Australia after traveling overnight from Bangkok, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters while in Thailand’s capital city Thursday for the APEC Summit.

The prime minister said he spoke with Turnell and that he was in “amazingly good spirits.”

“I’m sure I speak for all Australians when I sent Prof. Turnell our very best wishes,” he said. “We, of course, are giving him, as you would expect, health support as well.”

Ex-British ambassador Vicky Bowman and her husband, Htein Lin, were arrested in August on immigration violations.

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“We welcome the release of Vicky Bowman and others from detention in Myanmar today,” James Cleverly, Britain’s secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth and development affairs, said in a statement. “All those unjustly imprisoned in Myanmar should be released.”

Japan had called for the release of filmmaker Toru Kubota, who was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for violating the country’s sedition laws for recording a demonstration. He was released along with Htay Oo, a former 88 Generation student activist.

The pro-democracy 88 Generation Students movement was named after the 1988 student-led protests against the military and formed in opposition of the current military leadership.

“Sean Turnell, Vicky Bowman, Htein Linn, Toru Kubota and Kyaw Htay Oo should have never spent a second in prison,” Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Their arrests were part of sweeping and arbitrary arrests by a junta that has squashed any perceived criticism or dissent.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said on Wednesday that Myanmar still holds more than 13,000 political prisoners. Among them, 1,648 are serving sentences.

Since the coup, more than 2,500 people have been killed by government forces, the association said.

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