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POLITICS & PRISON

Myanmar junta grants partial pardon to democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi attends the joint press announcement of the Japan-Mekong Summit Meeting at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan, 9 October 2018. (Photo: EPA-EFE / FRANCK ROBICHON / POOL)

Myanmar's ruling military pardoned on Tuesday jailed former leader Aung San Suu Kyi on five of the 19 offences for which she was convicted, but she will remain under house arrest, state media and informed sources said.

The pardons mean six years will be shaved off Aung San Suu Kyi’s 33-year jail term, junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told the Eleven Media Group, adding that it was part of an amnesty under which more than 7,000 prisoners were freed across Myanmar.

The southeast Asian country has been in turmoil since early 2021, when the military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government and cracked down on opponents of military rule, with thousands jailed or killed.

On Monday, the junta postponed an election promised by August this year and extended a state of emergency by six months, which critics said would prolong the crisis.

The 78-year-old Nobel Laureate, who was detained during the coup, was last week moved to house arrest from prison in the capital, Naypyitaw. She denies all the charges for which she was convicted, ranging from incitement and election fraud to corruption, and has been appealing against them.

The junta spokesperson was quoted as saying the military’s State Administration Council also reduced by four years the jail term of former president Win Myint, who was arrested at the same time as Aung San Suu Kyi.

An informed source said both Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint would remain in detention.

“She won’t be free from house arrest,” said the source who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The convictions for which she was pardoned were minor ones including breaching a natural disaster mitigation law in violating Covid-19 rules while election campaigning, the source said.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, was first put under house arrest in 1989 after protests against decades of military rule.

In 1991, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for campaigning for democracy but was only finally released from house arrest in 2010. She swept a 2015 election, held as part of tentative military reforms and her party won the next election in November 2020.

But the military complained of election fraud after the 2020 vote and said it had to take power in early 2021 to ensure the complaints were investigated. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party rejected the accusations of election fraud.

‘COSMETIC’

Many governments, particularly in the West, have called for the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and thousands of other political prisoners.

Thailand’s foreign minister said last month he had met Aung San Suu Kyi privately, the first foreign official to be granted access to her since her detention. Don Pramudwinai said she was in good health and supported dialogue to help resolve her country’s crisis.

The United States, which has issued sanctions against the junta and its businesses, was unmoved by the pardons. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the junta must take a number of steps “before we could talk about any change in our posture towards them”.

“We have repeatedly called on the military to immediately release Aung San Suu Kyi, deposed President Win Myint and all the others unjustly detained, something they have not done,” Miller told reporters, urging the junta to end the violence, allow unhindered humanitarian access and engage with “all stakeholders” on Myanmar’s future.

One diplomatic source described Tuesday’s pardons as a “cosmetic move”.

“This is a signal to the international community – without doing anything substantive,” said the source who declined to be identified.

A spokesperson for a shadow National Unity Government formed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters and other opponents of the military said the partial pardons for Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint showed the military was feeling pressure as not only Western countries but also neighbours in southeast Asia call for a resolution of Myanmar’s crisis.

“This is just a political trick … aimed at relieving pressure,” said spokesperson Kyaw Zaw.

“They must be released unconditionally since they were arbitrarily detained. All political prisoners must be released.”

(Reporting by Reuters staff; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Robert Birsel and Grant McCool.)

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  • Rama Chandra says:

    Why should they release ASSK? She has after all been actively supporting genocide. That is a pretty big thing for the international community to gloss over. We should be referring her to the ICC for crimes against humanity.

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