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


A former British ambassador, an Australian economist and a Japanese journalist are said to be freed by Myanmar’s ruling junta in an 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 released to mark Myanmar’s National Day, state media reported on Thursday.

The pardons were granted on “humanitarian grounds”, according to the media, and following criticism of the junta at a recent meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.

Myanmar has been in political turmoil since the military staged a coup in February 2021, arresting civilian leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi – who remains in prison amid a string of charges that critics say are politically motivated.

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

Bowman, who served as Britain’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 Yangon’s notorious Insein prison. Reuters reported that her husband, artist Htein Lin, would also be released in the amnesty.

File photo of Sean Turnell in his university office in Sydney.

Australian Turnell, who served as an economic adviser to Suu Kyi’s government, was arrested shortly after the coup and sentenced to three years in prison in September for breaching the country’s state secrets law in a ruling condemned by the Australian government.

Japanese documentary filmmaker Kubota was sentenced to 10 years in prison in October on immigration charges for entering the country on a tourist visa to film protests.

The Japanese embassy in Myanmar said Thursday that it had been notified by authorities that Kubota would be released later in the 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 military rule.

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

The junta has come under growing criticism in the region after failing to implement a peace plan agreed in April last year.

Myanmar remains part of ASEAN despite objections from international rights groups. But junta officials have been barred from sending political representatives to major events.

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