Get our newsletter delivered directly to your inbox
I have already subscribed | Do not show this message again
Your email has been successfully registered.
"To mark Myanmar New Year, by respecting humanitarian ground and peace of mind of the people, the president pardons 24,896 prisoners from various prisons altogether," a statement from the Myanmar president's office said.
Myanmar will free almost 25,000 prisoners in an amnesty to mark the traditional New Year — its most significant mass pardon in recent years due to COVID-19.
More than a quarter of the country's prison population is being released, the president's office announced on Friday after calls grew to ease pressure on overcrowded jails out of fear of the spread of the virus, while fears are gripping the country.
Myanmar President Win Myint said 24,896 people jailed across the country, including 87 foreigners, would be freed unconditionally "to bring delights to the citizens of Myanmar and taking into consideration humanitarian concerns."
The Southeast Asian nation grants an annual amnesty to thousands of prisoners to mark its April New Year holiday (Thingyan holiday), but this is the largest recorded in recent years.
It comes as governments around the world -- including the US, parts of Europe, and Colombia -- grapple with overcrowded prisons as fears spiral of virus outbreaks behind bars.
Meanwhile, as news of the amnesty spread, crowds defied a new ban on gatherings of five or more people to assemble outside Yangon's notorious Insein prison, hoping to see their family members freed.
As buses brought the newly-released through the prison gates, cheers erupted with people waving flowers and reaching to grasp the hands of relatives leaning out of the bus windows.
Wearing a mask, Ei Nge told AFP she came to the prison as soon as she heard about the amnesty.
"I'm not even thinking about coronavirus. I just really want to see my son," she said.
So far, Myanmar has confirmed at least 88 cases of COVID-19, including four deaths, but experts fear the real number is many times higher because of the low numbers being tested.
Before the amnesty, there were nearly 100,000 inmates across the country's prisons, which had space for just 62,000, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).