Myanmar's military commutes jail terms of election officials

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military-installed government announced Wednesday that it has released the former chairman and another member of the country's election commission who were jailed for alleged fraud in the 2020 general election.

The military's information office said in a statement that former Union Election Commission Chairman Hla Thein and his colleague, Myint Naing, were freed on Oct. 25 to demonstrate leniency and to teach them how the state shows kindness and goodwill.

Both were sentenced to three years in prison in July on charges of electoral fraud and held in Yamethin prison in the central Mandalay region. The military has prosecuted hundreds of people associated with the former government and governing party since it seized power last year. Critics say the prosecutions are politically motivated.

State-run MRTV television also reported the release of the two election officials and the commutation of their sentences.

Myanmar has been wracked by violent unrest since the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power in February last year, claiming massive voting fraud in the 2020 election. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won the election in a landslide and independent election observers did not find any major irregularities.

Myanmar’s previous election commission also rejected the military’s allegations of electoral fraud and its members were dismissed and arrested by the army after its takeover.

A new military-appointed election commission accused the defendants, including its own former chairman, of being “involved in electoral processes, election fraud and lawless actions,” and filed the election fraud charge in November last year.

The military statement said the two former election officials had petitioned the government to commute their sentences due to their ages — both are in their seventies — and because they pled guilty.

The announcement of the releases comes just ahead of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia, where a top agenda item will be the Myanmar crisis, which has threatened the group’s unity.

Myanmar is a member of the regional grouping, but its military rulers have not cooperated with ASEAN’s efforts to ease tensions and stop the violence in the country. The government has offered few conciliatory actions to mollify criticism in the region or among Western nations, which have sanctioned it for its takeover and human rights abuses.

The army’s seizure of power prompted nationwide peaceful protests that security forces suppressed with violence. More than 2,400 civilians have been killed by the security forces, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights monitoring organization. Army offensives against pro-democracy forces in the countryside have led to what U.N. experts have called a civil war.

State media reported after a meeting of the ruling National Defense and Security Council at the end of July that 2,417 officials have been prosecuted for failing to supervise the electoral processes and actions were underway to prosecute voters who allegedly cast ballots more than once.