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Myanmar Frees 102 Prisoners, Including Prisoners of Conscience


Min Min, second right, rights activist and political prisoner who was released from Insein Prison, shouts slogans demanding the release of all remaining political prisoners outside the prison in Yangon, Myanmar, Jan. 22, 2016.

Myanmar's military-backed government has released 102 prisoners, including many jailed on political charges, in a move that comes just before it is set to hand power to a pro-democracy opposition party.

The prisoners were freed Friday from Insein prison near Yangon, according to a presidential spokesman. At least 20 of the freed detainees were prisoners of conscience while others were common criminals, officials said.

Among those freed was 32-year-old New Zealand citizen Philip Blackwood, who was sentenced last year to 2½ years in prison for using an image of Buddha in a flyer that a judge said insulted Buddhism.

Under the leadership of reformist President Thein Sein, Myanmar's government has released more than 1,300 political prisoners in recent years, even while continuing to throw activists and dissidents behind bars.

At least 537 people remain jailed on political charges, according to the Assistant Association for Political Prisoners.

The latest amnesty comes after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this week visited the country and urged its leaders to free all remaining political prisoners.

It also comes months before Thein Sein's government hands power to the National League for Democracy, which is headed by opposition leader and longtime pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

The NLD won last November's election in a landslide and will sit for the first time