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Myanmar junta frees over 600 detainees after outrage

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Onlookers watch as a bus ferrying coup detainees is driven out from Insein prison, where they had been held for taking part in demonstrations against the military coup, in Yangon on Wednesday. STR/AFP

Myanmar junta frees over 600 detainees after outrage

Myanmar freed more than 600 coup detainees on March 24, including an Associated Press (AP) photographer arrested while covering rallies, following fresh outrage over brutal crackdowns on protesters.

The regime has unleashed a deadly wave of violence as it struggles to quell nationwide protests against the February 1 ouster and arrest of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The 75-year-old was due to have a court hearing on March 24 in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, on criminal charges that could see her permanently barred from political office.

But her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said the hearing was adjourned until April 1 because of problems with video conferencing caused by a junta-imposed internet shutdown.

In commercial hub Yangon, AP photographer Thein Zaw, 32 – who was arrested last month while covering a protest – was freed from Insein prison.

He said: “I’m now on my way back home to meet with my mum. I’m in good health.

“The police officer who sued me withdrew his charge – that’s why they released me unconditionally.”

The AP’s vice-president for international news Ian Phillips said the agency was “deeply relieved” at Thein Zaw’s release.

He had been charged with “spreading false news”, along with five other journalists who were arrested the same day and are still in custody.

Separately, Polish photojournalist Robert Bociaga – who was also arrested while covering protests – was released after nearly a fortnight in detention, he said on March 24, adding that he was set to be deported.

‘Silent strike’

Thein Zaw’s release came hours after more than 600 people held for protesting against the coup were freed from the same jail.

“We released 360 men and 268 women from Insein prison today,” a senior prison official said on condition of anonymity, before the AP photographer’s release.

Lawyer Khin Maung Myint, who was at Insein prison for the hearing of two other clients, said 16 busloads of people left the jail at 10am local time (0400 GMT).

Local media showed images of the prisoners on the buses flashing the three-fingered salute – a sign of resistance for the anti-coup movement – as people waiting outside the prison waved at them and returned the gesture.

Activists called for a nationwide “Silent Strike” on March 24, and streets were bare in the cities of Yangon and Naypyidaw.

In the southern city of Myeik, rows of dolls were set up along roads, holding up tiny signs reading “We need democracy” and “We wish for Mother Suu to be healthy”.

At least 20 children killed

There was chaos overnight in Mandalay with barricades burning, arrests, homes raided by security forces, beatings and machine guns ringing out over multiple neighbourhoods, local media reported.

Three people were killed on March 23 including seven-year-old girl Khin Myo Chit, shot dead at her home in Mandalay, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group.


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