YANGON • Myanmar President Htin Kyaw signed a pardon for 83 prisoners on the country's New Year's Day, his office said in a statement yesterday, although it was not immediately clear if the amnesty included political prisoners.
"The 83 prisoners will be freed by amnesty... on the first day of Myanmar's New Year," read the President's statement, which was posted on Facebook yesterday. The pardon was intended to "make people feel happy and peaceful, and (promote) national reconciliation during the New Year", it added.
National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for 15 years, pledged in a statement earlier this month to make releasing prisoners of conscience a priority of her administration. Since the party took power, charges have been dropped against nearly 200 political activists, according to police, including students who spent over a year in jail over an education protest.
In a New Year's Day speech broadcast on television, Mr Htin Kyaw stressed his government's determination to release political prisoners, who were routinely jailed under the military regime.
"We are trying to set the political prisoners, political activists and the students who face trials concerned with politics free," the President said in his first lengthy public address since taking office.
He was little known outside his home country before taking office, but is a long-time friend and a close aide of Ms Suu Kyi.
The jailing of dissidents was among the junta's many repressive policies that helped garner global support for Ms Suu Kyi's democracy struggle. Watchdog groups in Myanmar say there are still hundreds of activists facing trial or being held in the country's notorious prisons. Many were arrested under the quasi-civilian government that stepped down last month after five years of transitioning the country from junta rule.
Myanmar's New Year holiday, a Buddhist celebration known as Thingyan, usually falls around mid-April. During the festival, people line the streets to douse one another with water to wash off past sins.