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Myanmar to release dozens of political prisoners

A New Zealander arrested for using an image of Buddha to promote a party is expected to be among the prisoners released. The move comes as Aung San Suu Kyi's party is set to assume power in parliament.

Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, on Friday ordered the release of more than 100 prisoners, including several political prisoners.

Under an amnesty, "101 prisoners will be released today from prisons across the country," said the president's chief of staff, Zaw Htay.

Htay added that 77 death sentences would be reduced to life terms in prison.

One of the prisoners to be released on Friday is New Zealander Phillip Blackwood. He was jailed last year for using an image of Buddha wearing headphones to promote a party in the country's largest city, Yangon.

The move by the outgoing Sein administration comes as a new parliament dominated by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy prepares to hold its first session, which is scheduled for sometime between February and April.

"A full amnesty could be the president's swan song and send the right signals to the new government that locking people up for peaceful dissent is not democratic progress," said Dave Mathieson, Human Rights Watch's senior researcher on Myanmar.

Last week, the human rights watchdog reported that more than 128 people are serving jail time for political offenses, along with another 472 facing "apparently politically motivated charges."

"Many are students, land-rights activists, journalists and an increasing number of people charged with criminal defamation for social media posts or allegedly 'insulting religion,'" said the report.

Sein's order to release the prisoners comes after US Assistant Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the government to release all political prisoners.

Until Sein's semi-civilian government assumed power in 2011, Myanmar was ruled by a military junta following a coup d'etat in 1962.

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'Release all political prisoners' | DW News

ls/sms (Reuters, dpa)

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