Hundreds of people imprisoned for demonstrating against last month’s coup in Myanmar were released Wednesday. (See Myanmar Coup.) It was a rare conciliatory (goodwill) gesture by the military. The action appeared aimed at quieting the protest movement.
Witnesses outside Insein Prison in Yangon saw busloads of mostly young people leaving the facility. Most looked happy with some flashing a three-finger salute. That has become known as a gesture of defiance adopted by protesters. State-run TV says a total of 628 were freed.
Also Wednesday, journalist Thein Zaw was released. He was arrested last month while covering an anti-coup protest.
The February 1 coup reversed a decade of progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian country. The overthrow ousted the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Protests erupted immediately. Myanmar’s security forces likewise acted, cracking down violently on demonstrators. The independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says that at least 275 people have been killed. Thousands more have been arrested. More than 2,000 remain in custody or have charges against them outstanding.
Wednesday’s release was an unusual action by the military. It has so far seemed unconcerned about both internal pressure from citizen unrest and outside pressure from international sanctions.
The military crackdown has become increasingly brutal. The United Nations expressed concern that individual homes have been raided and families tyrannized as military forces seek protesters inside private residences. A seven-year-old girl reportedly was shot and killed while sitting on her father’s lap in their home.
In response to the violence, demonstrators tried a new tactic Wednesday. They called it a “silence strike.” People stayed home and businesses closed for the day. Messages online urged people not to flood the streets in protest, saying silence is “the loudest scream.” It’s unclear whether that strike persuaded the military to release some of the prisoners, including Thein Zaw.
The freed journalist reports that a judge dropped all charges against him because he was doing his job at the time of his arrest.
“I’m looking forward to meeting my family members,” he says. “I’m sorry for some colleagues who are still in prison.”
(Anti-coup protesters hold red balloons attached with leaflets supporting democracy. The balloons were released during a gathering on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. The same day, the military released hundreds of people imprisoned for protesting last month’s coup d’état. AP)