Annual amnesty marking Independence Day takes place during crisis in the north that poses threat to military rulers.
Myanmar’s military government has pardoned more than 9,000 prisoners, including 114 foreign nationals, to mark the country’s Independence Day.
Friends and families of prisoners gathered outside the high-security Insein Prison in the commercial capital Yangon as the releases were set to start on Thursday and expected to take place over several days.
The identities of those slated for release were not yet known, and there was no indication that any political prisoners would be freed.
Thursday’s announced amnesty, part of an annual release, comes as the government faces a crisis in the country’s north, where ethnic armed groups have captured military and border posts, threatening to block trade with China.
Against this roiling backdrop, the Independence Day celebrations were devoid of the usual pomp and circumstance, and military chief Min Aung Hlaing was notably absent from the proceedings. In a statement, his administration said 9,652 prisoners would be freed.
The military came to power in a coup in February 2001 after ousting civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, brutally suppressing protests and cracking down on all forms of dissent.
Suu Kyi, 78, is currently in prison, sentenced to 33 years on an array of politically motivated charges from corruption to flouting COVID-19 restrictions. Her party was dissolved last year after failing to comply with tough new party registration laws.
Since the power grab, military leaders have been accused of murdering dozens of prisoners and covering up their deaths as escape attempts. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group, more than 25,730 people were arrested for opposing the coup, and almost 20,000 are still in detention.
The AAPP reports that at least 4,277 civilians, including pro-democracy activists, have been killed by security forces. In 2022, the generals drew international condemnation after executing four pro-democracy leaders and activists in the country’s first use of the death penalty in decades.