YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s new government released scores of jailed activists on Friday, just over a week after assuming power, and said it was preparing to pardon 100 more people serving sentences for political offences.
The move by Aung San Suu Kyi, whose post as state counselor makes her Myanmar’s de facto head of state, was welcomed by Washington and human rights groups.
Many of Suu Kyi’s supporters and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party were political prisoners under the junta that ceded power in 2011 after nearly 50 years of military rule. The new government was sworn in on March 30 after the NLD swept a general election in November.
Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest, said on Thursday that releasing remaining political prisoners was a top priority. It was unclear if the military, which controls key cabinet posts overseeing local government, law and order and security, supported the moves.
Sixty-nine student activists and supporters had charges against them dismissed and were released from jail in the town of Tharrawaddy, north of Yangon, said Zaw Htay, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s office. Students and relatives hugged and some waved NLD flags after their release.
Many of them were detained during a violent police dispersal of student protests in March 2015.
President Htin Kyaw was putting together another pardon for more than 100 people serving sentences for political crimes, Zaw Htay said.
The U.S. State Department said in a daily news briefing the steps showed a “commitment to human rights” and that it was ready to help Myanmar with more democratic reforms.
Amnesty International applauded the release and called on the government to free remaining prisoners of conscience and repeal laws that it said fueled arbitrary arrests.
Amnesty said at least five student leaders facing charges remained in detention.
The released activists were among 414 people facing political charges in Myanmar, said Bo Kyi, the head of rights monitor the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). The release leaves 47 on remand in jail and another 298 on bail while facing charges.
Suu Kyi has said she wants a reconciliation government and to avoid recriminations over the military’s brutal rule of the country. But tensions have simmered between the NLD and the military over the role of the enormously popular Suu Kyi in the government.
Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Aubrey Belford; Editing by Simon Webb and Richard Chang