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Former British ambassador among those set free in Myanmar

Former British ambassador among those set free in Myanmar

Myanmar’s military plans to free 6,000 detainees, including a former British ambassador, a Japanese filmmaker, and an Australian adviser to the country’s deposed government.

Former diplomats Vicky Bowman and Toru Kubota were imprisoned earlier this year, and Sean Turnell was arrested immediately after the 2021 coup.

The pardons were issued to commemorate Myanmar National Day, according to the military regime.

Since gaining power, the military has arrested over 16,000 civilians.

It deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in February 2021, causing nationwide riots and a large resistance movement.

Ms. Bowman was the UK’s envoy to Myanmar from 2002 to 2006, and she was directing the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) in Yangon at the time of her detention.

She is a well-known member of Myanmar’s small international community and speaks Burmese fluently. Htein Lin, her spouse, is a former political prisoner.

When the couple returned to the city from their home in Shan State, they were imprisoned. Military authorities charged both of them with failing to register her at a new address.

However, the case was most likely about broader political issues rather than immigration offenses, for which foreigners are rarely prosecuted in Myanmar.

Sean Turnell (left) and Myanmar’s former leader Aung San Suu Kyi were both convicted of security breaches (right)

Meanwhile, Mr. Turnell was arrested in Yangon in February 2021, just days after the military launched its coup, and sentenced to three years in prison under the Official Secrets Act.

He was a close aide to deposed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison on a variety of offenses since her fall.

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The Australian government declared at the time that it opposed the court’s decision in Mr. Turnell’s case, stressing that their citizen had been prosecuted in a secret military court.

Toru Kobuta, a 26-year-old documentary filmmaker, was arrested in July near an anti-government rally in Yangon. On sedition accusations and for breaking the electronic communications law, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. Before today’s amnesty, at least 68 journalists were jailed in Myanmar, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Kubota, who arrived in Myanmar in July, was stated to be making a “documentary involving a Myanmar citizen” earlier this year by a friend.

According to the filmmaker’s website Film Freeway, Kubota began his career in 2014 after he met a Rohingya refugee in Japan and went on to make “many documentaries about refugees and ethnic difficulties in Myanmar.”

Since assuming control, Myanmar’s military has been accused of numerous human rights crimes. According to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the military has killed over 2,400 people since the coup.

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