Former UK ambassador among prisoners to be freed in Myanmar

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Myanmar’s military is to release 6,000 prisoners including a former UK ambassador, a Japanese filmmaker and an Australian adviser to the country’s ousted leader.

Ex-diplomat Vicky Bowman and Toru Kubota were jailed earlier this year while Sean Turnell was detained shortly after the 2021 coup.

The military junta said the pardons were to mark Myanmar National Day.

The military has arrested more than 16,000 people since seizing power.

It overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in February 2021 – sparking huge protests across the country and a widespread resistance movement.

Bowman served as the UK’s envoy to Myanmar between 2002 and 2006 and was running the Yangon-based Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) at the time of her arrest.

A fluent Burmese speaker, she is a well-known member of Myanmar’s small international community. Her husband Htein Lin is a former political prisoner.

The couple was detained when they returned to the city from a home they have in Shan State. Military authorities charged them both with failing to register her as living at a different address.

However, the case was likely to have been about wider political concerns than immigration offenses, for which foreigners are rarely prosecuted in Myanmar.

“Thousands of people jailed since the coup in Myanmar have done nothing wrong and should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Amnesty International’s Australia Impact Director Tim O’Connor, adding that the release should not “deter international focus from the brutality of the Myanmar military’s activities since the coup in February 2021.”

“Under military rule in Myanmar, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and secretive, closed-door trials have become routine,” he said, calling for “anyone who cannot be charged with a recognizable” crime to be released.

Agencies

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