Myanmar's New President Pledges to Free Political Prisoners

Phyo Dana, a student protester who recently released from Thayarwaddy Prison with President's pardon, holds an alms bowl upside-down in a symbol of protest during a gathering near Shwedagon pagoda on April 8 in Yangon, Myanmar.  Photo: Thein Zaw / Associated Press

YANGON — Myanmar's new president on Sunday pledged to continue efforts to release remaining political prisoners as part of the sweeping democratic changes his government envisions after a half-century of military control.

President Htin Kyaw is leading the country's first freely elected government after more than 50 years of direct or indirect military domination. Opponents of the old junta were commonly arrested and jailed for years for their political views.

One of the first acts of the new civilian administration that took power at the end of March was to set free more than 100 political prisoners and detainees awaiting trial just before the New Year holiday began.

It isn't clear exactly how many political detainees remain in custody. More than 1,000 were released under the previous quasi-civilian government as it moved the country toward openness and democracy.

"In the New Year, in order to give satisfaction to the majority of the people, we will continue to try to release political prisoners, political activists, and students facing trials related to politics," Htin Kyaw said in a nationally televised address to mark the start of the Buddhist new year.

"We also have to try to avoid such arrests in the future," he said.


Htin Kyaw is a confidante of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the country's most famous former political prisoner.

Her National league for Democracy won an overwhelming victory in last November's general election but she is barred from the presidency by a clause in the military-written constitution. After the election, she was given the specially created post of "state counsellor," which is akin to that of prime minister.

Story: Associated Press