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Myanmar's Ousted Leader Suu Kyi Moved From Prison to House Arrest Due to Heat, Military Says
gvw_ap_news
By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
April 17, 2024

Myanmar's former leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved from prison to house arrest due to a heat wave, as the military government frees over 3,000 prisoners. (AP File)

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BANGKOK — Myanmar’s jailed former leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved from prison to house arrest as a health measure due to a heat wave, the military government said as it freed more than 3,000 prisoners under an amnesty to mark this week’s traditional New Year holiday.

Those released included several political prisoners, including a member of the Kachin minority who is one of the country’s most prominent Christian church leaders.

Suu Kyi, 78, and Win Myint, the 72-year-old former president of her ousted government, were among the elderly and infirm prisoners moved to house arrest because of the severe heat, military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told foreign media representatives late Tuesday. The move had not yet been publicly announced in Myanmar as of Wednesday afternoon.

Suu Kyi’s transfer comes as the army has suffered a string of major defeats at the hands of pro-democracy resistance fighters and their allies in ethnic minority guerrilla forces. The nationwide conflict began after the army ousted the elected government in February 2021, imprisoned Suu Kyi and began suppressing nonviolent protests that sought a return to democratic rule.

Suu Kyi has been serving a 27-year prison term on a variety of criminal convictions in a specially built annex of the main prison in the capital Naypyitaw, where Myanmar’s meteorological department said temperatures reached 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday afternoon. Win Myint was serving an eight-year prison sentence in Taungoo in the Bago region.

Health Concerns and Legal Challenges

Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say the charges were fabricated in an attempt to discredit her and legitimize the military’s seizure of power.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent group that monitors casualties and arrests, more than 20,351 people arrested on political charges since the 2021 army takeover are still in detention, most of whom have not received criminal convictions.

Suu Kyi’s health has reportedly deteriorated in prison. In September last year, reports emerged that she was suffering from symptoms of low blood pressure including dizziness and loss of appetite, but had been denied treatment at qualified facilities outside the prison system.

Those reports could not be independently confirmed, but her younger son Kim Aris said in interviews that he had heard that his mother has been extremely ill and has been suffering from gum problems and was unable to eat.

News about Suu Kyi is tightly controlled by the military government, and even her lawyers are banned by a gag order from talking to the media about her cases. Her legal team also has been unable to meet with her face to face since December 2022.

Uncertainty Surrounding the Move

Whether the latest move is meant to be temporary was not announced.

Spokesperson Zaw Min Tun did not say where the released prisoners were being moved to in his remarks to U.S.-government funded Voice of America and Britain’s BBC, but there was no indication it might be one of her own former homes.

Before being sent to prison, Suu Kyi was reportedly held in a military safe house inside an army base.

New Year Prisoner Release

Other prisoners were released for the Thingyan New Year holiday, state-run MRTV television announced Wednesday, but it wasn’t immediately clear how many were political detainees. Aung Myo Kyaw of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said the group had heard of 7-10 people released in Yangon and nine from a prison in the central regions of Magway.

Local media in the northern state of Kachin reported that Hkalam Samson, former head of the Kachin Baptist Convention and chairman of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly, was among those freed. A resident of the state’s capital, Myitkyina, who said he visited the prison to welcome Samson’s release, posted a brief video of the laughing and smiling minister being greeted outside the prison. The visitor asked to remain anonymous to safeguard his personal security.

Samson was a prominent advocate of human rights in Myanmar and in 2019 was part of a delegation that met U.S. President Trump at the White House to discuss the military’s abuse of ethnic minorities. He was detained in December 2022 while preparing to fly to Thailand for a health checkup, and in April last year was handed a six-year prison term after being convicted of violating laws on unlawful association, incitement and counter-terrorism.

Christians make up about 6% of Myanmar’s overwhelmingly Buddhist population.

MRTV said that the head of the ruling military council, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, had pardoned 3,303 prisoners, including 28 foreigners who will be deported from Myanmar. He also reduced sentences for others. Mass amnesties on the holiday are not unusual in Myanmar.

Family and friends gathered outside the gates of Insein Prison, in northern Yangon, waiting expectantly and scanning the windows of buses that brought the released detainees out of the vast complex. Some held up signs with the names of the people they were seeking, in the same fashion as at an airport arrival hall.

Amid tearful reunions, Khin Thu Zar said she was happy, but that she would have to call her family.

“My family still doesn’t know about my release,” she said. She, like many political detainees, had been held on a charge of incitement, a catch-all offense widely used to arrest critics of the government and punishable by up to three years in prison.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s martyred independence hero Gen. Aung San, spent almost 15 years as a political prisoner under house arrest by previous military governments between 1989 and 2010. Her tough stand against military rule turned her into a symbol of the nonviolent struggle for democracy and won her the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Nay Phone Latt, spokesperson of the shadow National Unity Government, told The Associated Press that all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi and Win Myint, were unjustly detained and should be freed without conditions. The NUG views serves as an umbrella opposition organization.

He said it was unacceptable for the military government to resolve its difficulties by playing political games, such as changing prisoners’ places of detention and reducing sentences. The army’s recent battlefield setbacks, including last week’s loss to resistance forces of Myawaddy, a major trading town on the border with Thailand, is seen by many as underlining its increasing weakness.

 

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