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Myanmar frees a quarter of all prisoners

April 17, 2020

President Win Myint has granted amnesty to 25,000 prisoners in Myanmar. However, it was unclear if it was related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Prisoners, wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, wave from a bus
Image: AFP/Sai Aung Main

Myanmar will set free more than a quarter of its prison population, the office of the president announced on Friday. The release of 25,000 prisoners came after growing concerns about overcrowding during the pandemic. 

The regime often grants mass amnesty during the April New Year holiday, but this is bigger than usual. Last year, about 23,000 people were freed over several days, according to state media. More than 8,000 were released the previous year.

Police wearing face masks stand guard during a prisoner release in front of Insein Prison
Police wearing face masks stand guard during a prisoner release in front of Insein PrisonImage: AFP/Sai Aung Main

"To mark Myanmar New Year, by respecting humanitarian ground and peace in mind of the people, the president pardons altogether 24,896 prisoners from various prisons," the president's office said in a statement.

Some 87 foreigners included in the amnesty will be deported, it said. 

Read more: Local voices bring diversity to Myanmar’s airwaves

Human Rights Watch says there are nearly 100,000 inmates prisons, which have capacity for just 62,000. The prison department in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw said political prisoners would be included in the release, but denied that it was linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says there are 92 political prisoners serving prison terms, and 124 in detention awaiting trial. 

Myanmar has officially reported 85 COVID-19 cases and four deaths. It shares a large border with China. 

aw/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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