The four, including an Australian economist and a former British ambassador, were among thousands detained following the military coup.

Four foreigners who were among the thousands jailed by the Myanmar military following the February 2021 coup have been flown out of the country after being released in an amnesty.

Sean Turnell, a 58-year-old Australian economist who worked as an adviser to leader-elect Aung San Suu Kyi, arrived in Melbourne on Friday morning.

His wife, Ha Vu, posted a photo of the two laughing on social media.

“He’s here,” she wrote, adding a smiling emoji surrounded by hearts.

Turnell was arrested shortly after the generals seized power and convicted along with Aung San Suu Kyi of violating the official secrets law in September. A military court imprisoned them for every three years.

Japanese journalist Toru Kubota also returned home, landing in Tokyo early Friday morning. The 26-year-old was arrested after filming an anti-coup rally in Yangon in July and found guilty last month of inciting discontent against the army.

“I was released so quickly thanks to supporters in Japan, the press and government officials who worked to resolve the situation,” he told reporters at Haneda airport.

Earlier Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Myanmar, Vicky Bowman took a connecting flight after arriving in Bangkok on Thursday evening and did not comment on her release. She had been imprisoned for immigration offenses along with her husband, the prominent artist Htein Lin. The military had said he too would be released, but reporters on the plane said he was not with Bowman.

Black-backed Japanese journalist Toru Kubota is welcomed by dozens of happy-looking supporters at Tokyo's Haneda Airport
Japanese journalist Toru Kubota (front left) welcomed by his supporters as he arrives at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport after being released from a Myanmar prison, in Tokyo on November 18, 2022 [Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP]

The fourth foreigner, Kyaw Htay Oo from the United States and Myanmar, told AFP news agency he was “very happy” when he arrived in the Thai capital.

“I haven’t thought about what I’m going to do when I get home. What I know is that Myanmar is still not free.”

Thousands were detained for political reasons

Nearly 6,000 detainees were due to be released on Thursday on the occasion of Myanmar’s National Day, “including some 600 women,” the army said in a statement announcing the amnesty.

Hundreds of people gathered outside Insein Prison in Yangon early in the day, despite the rain, hoping their loved ones would be among those released.

One woman, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals, said she was waiting for her husband, who was halfway through a three-year prison sentence for encouraging dissent against the military.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which tracks the military’s crackdown, says nearly 13,000 people have been detained for political reasons since February 2021.

“After the coup, he joined the protests. I’m very proud of him,” she said.

People stretching to get to the window of a bus, holding placards with names, hoping for their loved ones to be released from prison
People gathered outside Insein Prison in the hope that their loved ones would be among those released [AP Photo]
Mya Aye hugs his colleague and smiles as he is released from prison.  Everyone else looks happy too
Some political prisoners were among the nearly 6,000 released. Mya Aye (center), a prominent leader of Myanmar’s 88 Generation Students Group, was among those released [AP Photo]

The generals have used brutal force to try to erase opposition to their rule, which left about 2,300 people dead, but they have been unsuccessful in quelling the resistance. Some civilians have taken up armsjoin the so-called People’s Defense Forces and fight alongside ethnic armed organizations fighting for self-determination along the borders of the country.

Three former ministers in Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, including close confidants Thein Oo and lawyer Kyaw Hoe, were among those released on Thursday, as was Myo Nyunt, spokesman for her National League for Democracy party.

The military has amnestied a number of prisoners since taking power, but the US, which has imposed sanctions on members of the military government, said there was no indication the generals would lose their grip.

“It’s a bright spot in what is otherwise an incredibly dark time,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at an Asia-Pacific summit in Bangkok.

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