Myanmar drops charges against nearly 200 political activists: police

Freed students and supporters march from Shwedagon pagoda to a memorial hall upon their arrival in Yangon, on April 8.
Freed students and supporters march from Shwedagon pagoda to a memorial hall upon their arrival in Yangon, on April 8.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar authorities have dropped charges against nearly 200 political activists since Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to fight for their freedom, a senior police officer told AFP on Saturday (April 9).

The cases were dismissed on Friday (April 8), he said, following Suu Kyi's announcement the day before that she was working with her new civilian-led administration to secure the release of scores of political prisoners languishing in Myanmar's jails.

"Police have dropped 199 cases against political activists around the country as of yesterday," the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The issue has personal resonance for Suu Kyi and many in her fledgling government, which is stacked with former activists once jailed under junta rule for their pro-democracy campaigns.

Those freed on Friday (April 8) included dozens of student activists in central Tharrawaddy who had been locked up for more than a year over an education demonstration they organised in March 2015.

In statement later that night Suu Kyi said more political prisoners would be released following Myanmar's new year holiday, but that "necessary scrutinisation" would need to be completed first.

The police officer told AFP more cases would be reviewed during the festival, which starts next week, and that other activists could be freed when the courts reopen.

Suu Kyi's administration is expected to seek the release of convicted political prisoners through a pardon signed by President Htin Kyaw, a close aide of hers who was sworn in last month.

Dissidents were routinely jailed by the brutal junta that strangled free expression in Myanmar for decades, one of many repressive policies that garnered global support for Suu Kyi's democracy struggle.

 

Friday's (April 8) release of activists was applauded by international human rights groups, though many urged the new government to go a step further and amend legislation that allows authorities to round up peaceful protesters.

"We look forward to the release of all remaining political prisoners and their full rehabilitation," the European Union said in a statement.

Watchdog groups in Myanmar say there are still hundreds of activists facing trial or being held in the country's notorious prisons, many of them arrested under the quasi-civilian government that stepped down last month after five years of transitioning the country from junta rule.

Suu Kyi called for the prisoner release through her new position as state counsellor, which she was given despite vehement opposition from the still-powerful military whose charter bars her from the presidency.

MPs from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party approved the new post, which will be added to her portfolio as foreign minister, through their solid majority in parliament.