Rakine state, Myanmar
Rakine state, Myanmar

Myanmar's early release of seven soldiers who were jailed for killing a group of Rohingya Muslims is drawing criticism from rights activists.

Four officers and three enlisted service members were freed last November, Reuters first reported, after being sentenced in 2018 to 10 years in prison with hard labor for killing 10 Rohingya men and boys the year before.

Prisons department head Myint Soe confirmed to reporters Tuesday in Yangon the soldiers were "no longer in custody," but he declined to provide more information.

The soldiers served less time than two Reuters reporters who were jailed for exposing the massacre. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were jailed last September after being sentenced to seven years on charges linked to their reporting. They served 500 days and then were released after receiving a presidential pardon.

The massacre occurred during a military crackdown in 2017 that forced nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

United Nations investigators have said the violence warrants the prosecution of top military leaders for "genocide." The International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary investigation into the killings.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director told the VOA Burmese Service the early release of the soldiers reveals that top Myanmar military leaders "don't really consider the Rohingya to be human, and were never committed to seeing anyone held accountable for their crimes in Rakhine state."

Asia Human Rights Commission attorney Min Lwin Oo said in an interview with VOA Burmese the soldiers' early release "obviously shows that the military does not care about the judicial system."

The Rohingya are widely viewed in Myanmar as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The military has justified its 2017 crackdown, which involved mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson, as a way of eradicating Rohingya insurgents.