A former British ambassador, an Australian economist and a Japanese journalist are reportedly set to be released by Myanmar’s ruling military junta under an amnesty – along with more than 6,000 other prisoners.
Vicky Bowman, Sean Turnell and Toru Kubota are among 5,774 male and 676 female prisoners being freed to mark Myanmar’s national day, state media reported Thursday.
Pardons were granted on “humanitarian grounds,” according to the media reports, and follow criticism of the junta at a recent summit of Southeast Asian leaders.
Myanmar has been in political turmoil since the military staged a coup in February 2021 by arresting civilian leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi – who remains in prison amid a slew of charges which critics say are politically motivated.
Since then the junta has arrested thousands of people for protesting against military rule as well as a handful of foreigners.
Bowman, who served as the United Kingdom’s top diplomat in Myanmar between 2002 and 2006, was arrested and charged with immigration offenses along with her Burmese husband in August and sent to Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison. Reuters reported that her husband, artist Htein Lin, would also be released in the amnesty.
Australian Turnell, who served as an economic adviser to Suu Kyi’s cabinet, was detained shortly after the coup and sentenced to three years in prison in September for violating the country’s Official State Secrets Act in a ruling that was condemned by the Australian government.
Japanese documentary filmmaker Kubota had been sentenced to 10 years in prison in October on charges which included violating immigration laws for entering the country on a tourist visa to film protests.
The Japanese Embassy in Myanmar said on Thursday it had been notified by authorities that Kubota would be released later in the day.
This isn’t the first time Myanmar’s military has released political prisoners. In October 2021, the military freed more than 5,600 people arrested for protesting against military rule.
The news comes after Southeast Asian leaders gathered in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh for the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, where the Myanmar conflict was among topics discussed.
The junta has faced increasing criticism within the region after failing to implement a peace plan negotiated in April of last year.
Myanmar remains part of the ASEAN bloc despite objections from global rights groups. But junta officials have been barred from sending political-level representatives to key events.