YANGON – Families of detained Myanmar protesters had their hopes dashed Sunday after political prisoners were not included in some 1,600 people released by the junta to mark the Buddhist new year.
The Southeast Asian country has been in turmoil since Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government was ousted last year in a military coup, which sparked huge protests and a deadly crackdown.
State television announced that 1,619 prisoners, including 42 foreigners, had been "pardoned" and will be released to mark the new year, an annual tradition that last year saw 23,000 prisoners freed.
A prisoner released from Yangon's Insein prison told AFP that "political cases and protesters were not among those released", with authorities only freeing criminals.
Crowds in front of the prison slowly left on Sunday afternoon. More than 100 people had gathered hoping to be reunited with loved ones, AFP correspondents said.
Among them was a woman waiting for her 19-year-old nephew, sentenced to three years imprisonment for incitement against the military.
"He was young, and he may have some feeling to fight," she said, declining to give her name.
"I wish all young children will be released including my nephew. They all were innocent."
Aye Myint, whose 19-year-old daughter was serving three years on a political charge, had hoped she would be released.
"Now, she has been more than one year in prison," Aye Myint said.
At around midday, a prison officer confirmed that "about 160 prisoners including six women prisoners" had been released from Insein, without giving more details.
There was no mention of the Australian economist Sean Turnell, a former Suu Kyi advisor who was arrested shortly after the coup.
He is currently on trial for allegedly breaching the official secrets act, which carries a maximum 14-year jail sentence.
The exact details of his alleged offence have not been made public, though state television has said he had access to "secret state financial information" and had tried to flee Myanmar.
The country typically grants an annual amnesty to thousands of prisoners to mark the Buddhist New Year, usually a joyous holiday celebrated in many parts with water fights.
But this year, with the bloody military crackdown on dissent, the streets in many major cities have been silent as people protest junta rule.