Myanmar began releasing the first group of about 100 political prisoners on Friday, as Aung San Suu Kyi’s party prepares to sit to take over the power in parliament for the first time after an election victory in November.
The announcement came after US Assistant Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Myanmar to free all political prisoners during a visit on Monday.
The amnesty might boost legacy of President Thein Sein, who replaced a junta that had run Myanmar for 49 years in 2011, while a chain of political and economic reforms had also been ushered.
A prison official told Reuters that 18 political prisoners were already released with a total of 21 people to be released today.
The Insein Prison, notorious for it’s inhumane conditions and torture, is run by the military junta and used largely to repress political protesters.
A prisoner, Htay Aung, was released on Friday from Insein after spending nine months in jail for taking part in numerous protests.
Aung said he hopes the new government will bring solutions for the problems that the previous government created for the people.
Philip Blackwood, a New Zealand citizen jailed for using a psychedelic image of Buddha wearing headphones to promote a party at a Yangon bar, was also likely to be released on Friday.
A director at the president’s office, Zaw Htay, said on his Facebook page that 102 prisoners would be freed and 77 death sentences would be reduced to life imprisonments.
Joint Secretary of political prisoner watchdog for the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), Bo Kyi, stated that most prisoners were arrested for staging protests and 101 political prisoners will be released in the coming days.
A key factor behind Western sanctions was Myanmar’s incarceration of more than 2,000 journalists, activists, politicians and comedians.
Although the Thein Sein government released hundreds of prisoners, human rights groups had complained that many were still imprisoned.
“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, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
AAPP’s website states that there were 129 political prisoners in December and 408 activists were awaiting trial for political actions.