Monday March 27th, 2023 7:17PM

Myanmar releasing 4 foreigners in broad prisoner amnesty

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar's military-controlled government announced Thursday it was releasing and deporting an Australian academic, a Japanese filmmaker, an ex-British diplomat and an American as part of a broad prisoner amnesty marking the country’s National Victory Day.

Australian Sean Turnell, Japan's Toru Kubota, Briton Vicky Bowman, and American Kyaw Htay Oo, as well as 11 local Myanmar celebrities, were among a total of 5,774 prisoners who were being freed, Myanmar's state-run MRTV reported.

The imprisonment of the foreign nationals had been a source of friction between Myanmar's leaders and their home governments, which had been lobbying for their release.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights monitoring organization, 16,232 people have been detained on political charges in Myanmar since the army ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February last year.

Of those arrested, 13,015 were still in detention as of Wednesday, AAPP reported. At least 2,465 civilians have been killed by security forces in the same period, the group says, though the number is thought to be far higher.

Amnesty International Australia's Tim O'Connor welcomed the decision to release Turnell, saying like many others that he should never have been arrested or jailed.

“Amnesty continues to call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their human rights," he said. “Thousands of people jailed since the coup in Myanmar have done nothing wrong.”

Japan's government spokesperson, Hirokazu Matsuno, said officials have been in touch with Kubota, and the 26-year-old Tokyo-based documentary filmmaker was believed to be in good health. He left Myanmar on a flight to Bangkok on Thursday and was expected back in Japan on Friday morning, the Japanese Embassy in Yangon said.

Bowman, Turnell and Kyaw Htay Oo were also expected to fly out of Myanmar on Thursday.

Turnell, 58, an associate professor of economics at Sydney’s Macquarie University who had been serving as an adviser to Suu Kyi, was arrested by security forces in Yangon just days after last year's military takeover. He was sentenced in September to three years in prison on charges of violating the country’s official secrets law and immigration law. Suu Kyi and three of her former Cabinet members were convicted in the same trial, which was held in a closed court, with their lawyers barred by a gag order from talking about the proceedings.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was in Bangkok for a summit when Turnell flew in from Myanmar late Thursday and the pair spoke by phone.

“Occasionally in this job you have a big moment. And I’ve just spoken to Sean Turnell, who has been released from 650 days of unfair, unjust imprisonment in Myanmar. And he has now landed and is well in Bangkok. He will travel overnight to Australia to be with his family. And this is just a wonderful outcome,” Albanese told reporters.

“He was in amazingly good spirits. We, of course, are giving him, as you would expect, health support as well.” Albanese added.

Turnell’s wife Ha Vu said in a statement Friday that she was “overwhelmed with joy.”

“After nearly 22 months apart, our priority right now is to spend time together as a family,” she said.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the takeover, which led to nationwide protests that the military government quashed with deadly force, triggering armed resistance that some U.N. experts now characterize as civil war.

Kubota was arrested July 30 by plainclothes police in Yangon after taking images and videos of a small flash protest against the military. He was convicted last month by the prison court on incitement and other charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Since seizing power, the military has cracked down on the coverage of protests, raided media companies, detained dozens of journalists and revoked the licenses of at least a dozen outlets.

Most of those detained are being held on the incitement charge for allegedly causing fear, spreading false news, or agitating against a government employee.

Some of the closed media outlets have continued operating without licenses and many Myanmar journalists are working underground, moving from one safe house to another, hiding in remote border regions, or basing themselves in exile.

Kubota was the fifth foreign journalist detained in Myanmar, also called Burma, since the military seized power. U.S. citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, who worked for local publications, and freelancers Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan were deported before serving their full prison sentences.

Bowman, 56, a former British ambassador to Myanmar who was running a business consultancy, was arrested with her husband, a Myanmar national, in Yangon in August. She was given a one-year prison term in September by the prison count for failing to register her residence.

Kyaw Htay Oo, a naturalized American, returned to Myanmar, the country of his birth, in 2017, according to media reports. He was arrested in September 2021 on terrorism charges and had been in custody since then.

U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at a news conference on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bangkok, welcomed the release of the prisoners, calling it “one bright spot in what is otherwise an incredibly dark time where we see things going from bad to worse in Burma, including terrible violence that’s being done to innocent Burmese.”

Myanmar did not release many details of the others being freed, but many were held on charges related to the protests, including Section 505(A) of Myanmar’s penal code, which makes it a crime to spread comments that create public unrest or fear or spread false news —- with a penalty of up to three years in prison.

Those being released included Kyaw Tint Swe, a former minister for the office of the State Counsellor, Than Htay, a former member of the Union Election Commission, and Lae Lae Maw, a former chief minister of Tanintharyi region who was sentenced to 30 years for alleged corruption under Suu Kyi’s government, MRTV announced.

Among the first set free from Yangon's Insein prison were prominent author Maung Thar Cho, pro-democracy activist Mya Aye and Myo Nyunt, the spokesperson of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, all of whom were arrested Feb. 1, 2021, the day the military seized power.

“I will always stand together with the people of Myanmar,” Mya Aye defiantly told the crowd outside the prison after his release.


Associated Press writers Grant Peck in Bangkok, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this story.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Economy
© Copyright 2023
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Walker, Republicans look for party unity in Georgia runoff
Republicans insist they’re working together to help Herschel Walker unseat Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in next month's Georgia runoff
12:07AM ( 2 minutes ago )
Myanmar releasing 4 foreigners in broad prisoner amnesty
Myanmar’s military-controlled government says it is releasing and deporting an Australian academic, a Japanese filmmaker, an ex-British diplomat and an American as part of a broad prisoner amnesty to mark the country’s National Victory Day
11:58PM ( 11 minutes ago )
Leno has surgery for burns from car fire, in good condition
Jay Leno remains hospitalized after suffering burns last weekend
11:40PM ( 29 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Drone hits Israeli-linked tanker; Iran frees 2 Greek tankers
An oil tanker associated with an Israeli billionaire has been struck by an Iranian bomb-carrying drone off the coast of Oman amid heightened tensions with Tehran
10:30PM ( 1 hour ago )
State media: Gunmen attack bazaar in Iran, killing 5
Iranian state TV says gunmen opened fire in a bazaar in the southwestern Iranian city of Izeh, killing at least five people and wounding civilians and security forces
10:20PM ( 1 hour ago )
Reports: Myanmar releasing 4 foreign prisoners in amnesty
Myanmar’s state media reported the country’s military-controlled government was releasing and deporting an Australian academic, a Japanese filmmaker and an ex-British diplomat as part of a prisoner amnesty to mark the country’s National Victory Day
10:18PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP World News
Asian benchmarks mostly decline amid lingering China worries
Asian shares mostly declined amid concerns about the impact of China’s “zero-COVID” strategy mixed with hopes for economic activity and tourism returning to normal
10:11PM ( 1 hour ago )
GOP wins slim House majority, complicating ambitious agenda
Republicans have won control of the U.S. House, returning the party to power in Washington and giving conservatives leverage to blunt President Joe Biden’s agenda and spur a flurry of investigations
10:05PM ( 2 hours ago )
Toyota shows new Prius hybrid with more power, range, style
The new Toyota gas-electric Prius hybrid not only comes with more power, acceleration and driving range
9:31PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Business
Wall Street slips as Target stumbles and weighs on retailers
Wall Street closed lower as hefty drops in retailers and technology companies offset gains elsewhere in the market
4:48PM ( 7 hours ago )
Live Updates | Russia-Ukraine-War
A United Nations official says the U.N. is “cautiously optimistic” a wartime deal that has enabled Ukraine to export grain and Russia to ship its grain and fertilizer to world markets will be renewed
3:34PM ( 8 hours ago )
Target's 3Q profit drops 52% as shoppers force price cuts
An unexpected and potentially ominous pullback in customer spending ahead of the holiday shopping season pushed third quarter profits at Target down 52% after it was forced to slash prices for Americans who are feeling the squeeze of inflation
3:10PM ( 8 hours ago )
AP Business - Economy
Leno has surgery for burns from car fire, in good condition
Jay Leno remains hospitalized after suffering burns last weekend
11:40PM ( 30 minutes ago )
Arizona voters reject effort to enact stricter voter ID law
Arizona voters who overwhelmingly cast their ballots by mail have rejected a measure that would have would have required them to add more information to the simple signature and date they now put on the back of the return envelope
11:36PM ( 34 minutes ago )
US and Russia clash over responsibility for missile strike
The U.S. and its Western allies clashed with Russia at the U.N. Security Council over responsibility for a deadly missile strike in Poland near the Ukrainian border
11:23PM ( 46 minutes ago )
Seoul: North Korea fires ballistic missile toward sea
South Korea says North Korea has fired a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters
11:20PM ( 50 minutes ago )
Celtics claim 8th straight win, beat Hawks 126-101
Jaylen Brown scored 22 points to lead a balanced Boston attack and the East-leading Celtics stretched their winning streak to eight with a 126-101 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night
11:18PM ( 52 minutes ago )