Myanmar artist Htein Lin has been released from Yangon’s Insein Prison, along with his wife Vicky Bowman, a former diplomat, and three other foreign nationals being detained by the Tatmadow junta as part of a promised mass release of political prisoners.
On 16 November, the military regime announced that on the following day—Myanmar National Day—it would release 5,774 male and 676 female political prisoners of the 16,248 it has detained since the 1 February 2021 coup. Bowman, a former UK ambassador to the country, along with the Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota, deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s Australian economic adviser Sean Turnell and Myanmar-born US botanist Kyaw Htay Oo were the first released.
All four were deported within hours, reports Myanmar Now, with Bowman now in Bangkok. Htein Lin was among 11 high-profile Myanmar nationals released shortly after, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). The Irrawaddy reports that among those released from the notoriously grim Insein Prison are the writer Maung Thar Cho; Myo Nyunt, the deposed National League for Democracy spokesman; the democracy activist Mya Aye; the legal adviser U Kyaw Ho; and the Buddhist monk Shwe Nya War Sayadaw.
Htein Lin and Bowman were detained in late August and each sentenced to a year’s hard labour on 2 September. The artist is among Myanmar’s best known, and an outspoken advocate for both art and freedom in the country. He was previously detained from 1998 to 2004, and much of his art delves into the experiences of Myanmar’s political prisoners.
The AAPP has documented that since the announcement, only 402 prisoners have been released from 19 prisons, of which it had identified 161 individuals. The organisation joins other democracy advocates in calling for continued pressure to ensure the full number are released, as well as all 12,976 of the country’s remaining prisoners. The regime has also killed 2,516 opponents since the coup, according to the AAPP.
U Bo Kyi, the AAPP’s joint-secretary, said in a release: “Just as in every prison release since the coup the junta has refused to be transparent about the numbers of political prisoners released and the identities of those released. It is a deliberate tactic meant to deceive foreign governments”.