Myanmar’s military authorities released more than 7,000 prisoners and granted a partial pardon to deposed leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint during a Buddhist religious celebration. Critics say this move was intended to ease international pressure and weaken the opposition.
The military grabbed power in February 2021 and immediately detained State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. It vowed to restore civilian rule by holding an election, but more than two years later, the country remains under an extended state of emergency while the junta has violently suppressed all forms of dissent.
Despite the crackdown targeting the opposition, the military has failed to stabilize its rule as pro-democracy forces have continued to garner public support. Anti-junta activists and ethnic armed groups have launched campaigns undermining the military dictatorship.
Meanwhile, independent media outlets have consistently exposed the brutality of the junta and the impact of the conflict across the country. Myanmar’s military authorities are also unable to get diplomatic recognition and the support of the majority of the international community.
Amid the intensifying crisis, the military government released 7,749 prisoners in time for the Dhammasetkya Day, which commemorates the first sermon the Buddha ever delivered. But the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners reported that only 120 political prisoners were included in the amnesty, while according to its tally, 19,733 individuals arrested since the coup remain imprisoned.
The partial pardon granted to Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint will not lead to their release, since the former has been convicted in 14 other cases, while the latter’s prison term was only reduced by four years.
The opposition spokesperson described the pardon as “cosmetic”. He added that “the move comes straight out of the regime’s dirty politics playbook to ease international pressure.” Another opposition leader reiterated the demand of the pro-democracy movement.
“We welcome any improvement in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi conditions, but the military’s ‘pardon’ changes nothing. It does not change the daily bombing of villages, 17,000 people still in prison, economic ruin. It does not change our determination to end military rule in Myanmar.”
— Mahn Winn Khine Thann (@MahnWinnKhine) August 1, 2023
An activist asserted that the anti-junta resistance will continue to gain momentum:
Even the most brutal armed gang, as such, has to respond to the calls of the people amid continued peoples’ resistance.
Their game is nothing new. But the resistance & our calls for political change offer long-lasting solutions for #Myanmar.
March on twd our goals. ✊️ https://t.co/kn5klS7FWf
— Thinzar Shunlei Yi (@thinzashunleiyi) August 1, 2023
In an editorial, the news website Myanmar Now noted that the junta is using an old tactic to distract opposition forces and confuse the international community.
All of this is straight out of the playbook of previous regimes: Use Suu Kyi to create the illusion that the military might be willing to soften its position, and then deploy this fiction to weaken domestic resistance and divide international opinion.
Australian economist Sean Turnell, who was previously detained after the coup for being an adviser of the former government, also mocked the pardon issued by the junta.
A regime that remembers everything, but learns nothing. But, they seek to manipulate a world that, when it thinks about Myanmar at all, neither remembers nor learns. Will Myanmar’s junta get away with it? Are people that foolish, gullible, ignorant and selfish? pic.twitter.com/cAANhu2yak
— Sean Turnell (@TurnellSean) August 1, 2023
He insisted that the deposed leaders should not have been arrested in the first place:
Myanmar’s problems will not be solved by reducing the prison sentences on people who should never have been sentenced in the first place. Real change is possible in Myanmar, but it will not come from applauding meaningless gestures, as attractive as they might be as “click-bait”. As with such online temptations broadly, best not to hit the like button until there is truly something to be happy about.
In an editorial, the news website The Irrawaddy described the pardon as “appalling but laughable” and urged the international community to step up its pressure against the junta.
All players should demand the immediate release of Suu Kyi and other detained leaders of the ousted government, as well as elected MPs and all other political prisoners.
If ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and the international community want to see a restoration of stability and peace in Myanmar, it is time to increase—not reduce—the pressure on the regime and support the democratic opposition.