Myanmar’s junta on Saturday announced it pardoned and released more than 23,000 prisoners to mark the new year holiday, but it wasn’t immediately clear if they included pro-democracy activists who were detained in the wake of the February coup.
The release was announced on state broadcaster MRTV, which said that the military leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing pardoned the 23,047 prisoners, including 137 foreigners who will be deported from Myanmar. He also reduced sentences for others.
Early prisoner releases are customary during major holidays, but this is the second time the ruling junta has done so since it overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, triggering daily protests, arrests and deaths by security forces.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests, government forces have killed at least 726 protesters and bystanders since the takeover. The group says 2,728 people, including Suu Kyi, are in detention.
Following the release of more than 23,000 convicts to mark Union Day on Feb. 12, there were reports on social media that some were recruited by the authorities to carry out violence at night in residential areas to spread panic, especially by setting fires.
Some areas responded by setting up their own neighborhood watch groups.