Junta shows mercy on New Year

Relatives gather around a bus carrying prisoners being released from Insein prison for the Buddhist New Year, in Yangon on April 17, 2024. Myanmar's junta on April 17, 2024, announced a pardon for more than 3,300 prisoners under a regular amnesty to mark the country's traditional new year festival. (Photo by AFP)

JAILED former leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved from prison to house arrest as a health measure due to a heatwave, the military government said.

It also granted amnesty for over 3,000 prisoners to mark this week’s traditional New Year holiday yesterday.

Suu Kyi, 78, and Win Myint, the 72-year-old former president of her ousted government, were among elderly and infirm prisoners moved out of prison because of the severe heat, the military’s spokesperson, Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun, told foreign media representatives late Tuesday.

The move has not yet been publicly announced in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi’s transfer comes as the army has been suffering a string of major defeats in its fight against pro-democracy resistance fighters and their allies in ethnic minority guerilla forces.

The nationwide conflict began after the army ousted the elected government in February 2021, imprisoned Suu Kyi and began suppressing nonviolent protests that sought a return to democratic rule.

Suu Kyi has been serving a 27-year prison term on a variety of criminal convictions in a specially-built wing of the main prison in the capital Naypyidaw, where Myanmar’s meteorological department said temperatures reached 39°C on Tuesday afternoon.

Win Myint was serving an eight-year prison sentence in Taungoo in Myanmar’s Bago region.

Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say the charges were fabricated in an attempt to discredit her and legitimise the military’s seizure of power.

The military had claimed that her National League for Democracy Party used widespread electoral fraud to win a landslide victory in the 2020 general election, an allegation independent observers found unconvincing.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent group that monitors casualties and arrests, more than 20,351 people arrested on political charges since the 2021 army takeover are still in detention, most of whom have not received criminal convictions.

Suu Kyi’s health has reportedly deteriorated in prison. In September last year, reports emerged that she was suffering from symptoms of low blood pressure including dizziness and loss of appetite, but had been denied treatment at qualified facilities outside the prison system.

Those reports could not be independently confirmed, but her younger son Kim Aris said in interviews that he had heard that his mother has been extremely ill and has been suffering from gum problems and was unable to eat.

Aris, who lives in England, urged that Myanmar’s military government be pressured to free his mother and other political prisoners. News about Suu Kyi is tightly controlled by the military government, and even her lawyers are banned by a gag order from talking to the media about her cases.

Her legal team has faced several hurdles, including being unable to meet with her to receive her instructions since they last saw her in person in December 2022. Whether the latest move was meant to be temporary was not announced.

Spokesperson Zaw Min Tun did not say where the released prisoners were being moved to in his remarks to US-government funded Voice of America and Britain’s BBC, but there was no indication it might be one of her own former homes.

The lakeside house where Suu Kyi spent most of her years in house arrest is in legal limbo after a court-ordered auction in March failed to find a buyer. Before being sent to prison, Suu Kyi was reportedly held in a military safe house inside an army base.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s martyred independence hero Gen Aung San, spent almost 15 years as a political prisoner under house arrest by previous military governments between 1989 and 2010. — AP

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