Myanmar freed at least 200 political prisoners on Friday in an amnesty that could embolden the opposition and put pressure on the West to lift sanctions as one of the world’s most reclusive states opens up after half a century of authoritarian rule.
Among those freed are long-persecuted democrats and ethnic leaders whose proven ability to organise and inspire could heap pressure on President Thein Sein to accelerate nascent reforms.
A government official said former prime minister and military intelligence boss Khin Nyunt, who was placed in detention after his ouster in a 2004 power struggle, was also among those pardoned.
Also freed was Shin Gambira, a Buddhist monk who led 2007 street protests crushed by the army. He was 27 years old when sentenced to 68 years in prison in 2007.
Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party hailed the release as a “positive sign”, raising hopes that the amnesty could be the most significant yet under the new nominally civilian government.
“We welcome the release. Some (dissidents) are on their way home already,” said a spokesperson for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.