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Myanmar junta frees thousands of detained anti-coup protesters

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By Wednesday evening a total of 2,296 protesters had been released from prisons around Myanmar. AFP

Myanmar junta frees thousands of detained anti-coup protesters

Myanmar authorities released more than 2,000 anti-coup protesters from prisons across the country on June 30, including local journalists jailed after reporting critically on the junta’s bloody crackdown.

Myanmar has been rocked by massive protests and a brutal military response since the February coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi and her government.

More than 880 civilians have been killed in a crackdown by the State Administration Council – as the junta calls itself – and almost 6,500 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.

After authorities announced the release, a crowd of at least 200 people gathered outside the

colonial-era Insein prison in Yangon hoping a loved one might be released, an AFP reporter said.

Pressing up against the barricades, many held umbrellas to shelter from light rain, footage on local media showed, with one woman holding a flower.

By the evening a total of 2,296 protesters had been released from prisons around the country, the junta’s information team said in a statement.

As buses pulled out of Insein to take detainees to local police stations where they were due to be released, those onboard flashed the three-finger salute – a popular protest symbol – through the windows.

Local media published images it said showed trucks pulling out of the northern town of Myitkyina, also carrying detainees.

Journalist Kay Zon Nway of Myanmar Now was among those freed from Insein, the news outlet said in a statement.

She said she had experienced “many thing,”, in the notorious jail, but added that she would explain later.

US journalist Danny Fenster is being held at the same prison after being detained on May 24.

There were no foreigners among those released from Insein on June 30, a prison official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Ye Myo Khant, a 20-year-old photojournalist for the Myanmar Press Agency, was freed on June 30 after a 120-day detention.

“I was reporting when they unjustly arrested me,” he said.

While the release will be welcomed by individuals and reunited families, it “will do nothing to blunt popular resistance to military rule”, Richard Horsey, senior adviser on Myanmar to the International Crisis Group, told AFP.

“They should never have been detained. We should also remember that some of these people have faced brutal interrogations and torture that will leave lasting damage, visible and invisible.”

In February, the junta released around 23,000 prisoners, with some rights groups at the time fearing the move was to free up space for opponents of the military as well as to cause chaos in communities.

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