In the latest wave of prisoner releases, Myanmar’s military junta has pardoned and released from custody a number of well-known entertainers and personalities who were arrested for protesting the military coup February 2021.
According to a report in The Irrawaddy, the celebrities released from Insein Prison in Yangon include the actor Lu Min, the acting couple Pyay Ti Oo and Eaindra Kyaw Zin, and the male model and actor Paing Takhon. The junta announced that the four, who have been in detention for nearly a year had had been sentenced to three years prison under an anti-incitement law, were being pardoned “to participate in state-building affairs with their performing arts.”
Lu Min was arrested a few weeks after the February 2021 coup for participating in anti-regime protests and encouraging civil servants to join a national civil disobedience movement. The remaining three were arrested that April for participating in anti-regime protests. Also included in yesterday’s release was the award-winning film director Htun Zaw Win, who goes by the professional name of Wyne, who was arrested last month after more than a year on the run.
Win Min Than, a popular beauty and fashion blogger, also received a pardon for her conviction for incitement but remained in custody because she was also convicted for taking part in anti-coup activities under Myanmar’s Unlawful Associations Act.
The detention of such prominent film industry figures, who between them have garnered a constellation of awards from the Myanmar Motion Picture Organization, reflects the broad-based – indeed, almost universal – opposition to the February 1, 2021 coup. It also reflects the lengths to which the junta has gone over the past year to quell public protests.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been keeping a running count of those killed and arrested since the coup, 12,466 people have been detained in the 13 months since the military takeover. Of these, more than 9,400 remain in custody. This includes writers, activists, politicians, striking civil servants, and student activists, as well as a number of famous entertainers, including the singers Saw Phoe Khwar and Po Po, the actor Ye Tike, and the filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi.
Yesterday’s release were just the latest round of pardons and prisoner releases that the military administration has undertaken since the mass arrests of the early post-coup period. The most recent took place in October, when the junta released some 5,600 people who had been arrested for protesting against or otherwise resisting the army’s seizure of power.
These releases do not indicate any slackening of the junta’s policies toward the nationwide resistance to its rule, nor any intention to pull back on its attempts to consolidate its hold on power. Prisoner release were also commonly announced by the military junta that ruled Myanmar prior to 2011.
The comments from the military administration would seem to suggest that the group released yesterday is subject to some sort of conditional release terms. If this does not involve their active collaboration with the junta (“participate in state-building affairs”) it will almost certainly require them to remain silent about political matters.