Myanmar to release Sean Turnell, Vicky Bowman in prisoner amnesty, state media say


A former British ambassador, an Australian economist and a Japanese journalist will reportedly be freed by Myanmar’s ruling military junta under amnesty, along with more than 6,000 other prisoners.

Vicky Bowman, Sean Turnell and Toru Kubota are among 5,774 male and 676 female prisoners who have been released to mark Myanmar’s national day, state media reported on Thursday.

The pardons were granted on “humanitarian grounds,” according to media reports, and after criticism of the board at a recent summit of Southeast Asian leaders.

Myanmar has been in political turmoil since the military staged a coup in February 2021 with the arrest of civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains in prison amid a series of charges that critics they say they have political motivations.

Since then, the junta has detained thousands of people for protesting against the military government, as well as a handful of foreigners.

Bowman, who served as the UK’s top diplomat in Myanmar between 2002 and 2006, was arrested and charged with immigration offenses along with her Burmese husband in August and sent to the notorious Insein prison from Yangon. Reuters reported that her husband, the artist Htein Lin, would also be released in the amnesty.

File image of Sean Turnell in his office at the University of Sydney.

Australian Turnell, who served as an economic adviser to Suu Kyi’s cabinet, was arrested shortly after the coup and sentenced to three years in prison in September for violating the country’s Official State Secrets Act in a sentence that was condemned by the Australian government.

Japanese documentary filmmaker Kubota had been sentenced to 10 years in prison in October on charges that included violating immigration laws by entering the country on a tourist visa to film protests.

The Japanese embassy in Myanmar said Thursday that authorities had notified Kubota that he would be released later that day.

This is not the first time the Myanmar military has released political prisoners. In October 2021, the military released more than 5,600 people arrested for protesting against the military government.

The news comes after Southeast Asian leaders gathered in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh for the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where Myanmar’s conflict was among the topics covered.

The junta has faced growing criticism in the region after failing to implement a peace plan negotiated in April last year.

Myanmar remains part of the ASEAN bloc despite objections from global rights groups. But board officials have been barred from sending political-level representatives to key events.

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