Amnesty on Myanmar New Year Day for Only a Few Political Prisoners; War Crimes in Rakhine State


Myanmar Spring Chronicle – April 17
MoeMaKa, April 18, 2024

Amnesty on Myanmar New Year Day for Only a Few Political Prisoners; War Crimes in Rakhine State

The military council usually arrests those with different political ideas and beliefs without regard for laws and procedures. Occasionally, a few of these individuals are granted amnesty on special days such as Thingyan New Year, Thadingyut, National Day, and Independence Day. Typically, only one in 20 or 30 released prisoners are arrested for political reasons. Among them, well-known political figures, activists, journalists, and some famous individuals are included one or two at a time, and the military council often arranges for this amnesty to be featured in the news. This situation is akin to a kidnapper releasing a victim, temporarily relieving the anxiety of the family, friends, colleagues, and community.

On April 17, Thingyan New Year, the military council announced the release of 3,303 prisoners. They specified that only those convicted under certain sections of the Penal Code are included, while those arrested under laws related to carrying weapons, anti-terrorism, corruption, natural disaster risk management, drug use, and sales are not covered. Furthermore, only 1/6 of the punishment will be granted parole for those convicted under the included laws.

Of the 3,303 pardoned, only around 80 to 100 were convicted for political reasons, while the remaining 3,000 face charges related to criminal offenses. Essentially, to alleviate the growing burden of caring for and supervising prisoners, the military council is trying to minimize the number of individuals convicted of crimes and maximize the capacity of prisons for political detainees.

Locally, this is referred to as “prison emptying,” indicating that the military council aims to detain political opponents rather than individuals convicted of crimes. On such special occasions, the military council releases a few prisoners to showcase their good deeds.

Rev. Dr. Hkalam Sam Sun, the counselor of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC); two former members of the Kachin State government; a former NLD MP from Nay Pyi Taw; Daw Nyo Aye, the president of the Arakan Women’s Network from Sittwe, Rakhine State; and some young activists from Yangon have been released. Those arrested under the anti-Terrorism Law, Section 505-A of the Penal Code (newly added after the military coup), state defamation laws, laws related to explosives, and those sentenced to long prison terms or death are still serving their sentences in various prisons across the country, amounting to tens of thousands, according to monitoring groups.

In other words, amnesty only means the release of a few opposition politicians and activists by the military coup council these days.

**War Crimes in Rakhine State**

Another topic today involves news of inciting hatred and the destruction of houses in the northern city of Buthidaung in Rakhine State. On April 14, 15, and 16 in Buthidaung, where the Rohingya ethnic group is the majority, Rohingya groups armed by the military council were reportedly destroying the homes of Rakhine people. Local news media reported that the office of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) – Doctors Without Borders, an international aid group, was destroyed by fire, damaging medicines collected for humanitarian aid.

In Buthidaung, still controlled by the military council, armed groups, including Rohingya ethnic groups organized by the military council, are carrying out racial incitement against Rakhine residents, burning down their homes, and destroying them with bulldozers. Due to communication network difficulties in Rakhine State, it is challenging for outsiders to obtain detailed information about these events.

Although there is a possibility that the Arakan Army (AA) could attack Buthidaung, current battles are occurring in villages around Buthidaung. Some news reports suggest that the military council and the Rohingya armed group ARSA have joined forces to destroy Rakhine homes in Buthidaung.

This incident could affect the understanding and cooperation between the Rakhine and Rohingya people. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the relevant communities to intervene and take action before ethnic and religious-based riots, killings, and revenge emerge.