Myanmar freed dozens of political prisoners on Wednesday, including one of its most famous comedians, in the latest sign of change in the authoritarian state after decades of repression.
The release of roughly 2,000 political detainees including pro-democracy campaigners, journalists, monks and lawyers, has long been a key demand of Western powers that have imposed sanctions on the country.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party said that about 120 political prisoners had been pardoned, and suggested the figure could still increase.
A number of political prisoners were pardoned at Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison, including student activist Aung Kyaw Soe, who was arrested in 1990 and sentenced to death, later reduced to life in prison.
Many of Myanmar’s political prisoners were sentenced to decades in jail and have endured “torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, according to rights group Amnesty International.
A mass pardon of dissidents would be arguably the clearest sign yet of change under a new government that has reached out to critics including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed in November.
State television announced on Tuesday that more than 6,300 elderly, sick, disabled or well-behaved prisoners would be granted an amnesty from Wednesday “on humanitarian grounds”.
It said freeing detainees would allow them to “help to build a new nation”.