Myanmar has lifted a ban on family visits to prisoners, which was implemented during the pandemic, in order to bring it to an end.

Myanmar, which is currently under military rule, has recently reinstated the right for prisoners to receive visits from family members who live outside of the prison. This right had been suspended for the past 3 and a half years due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The military’s information office and prison officials confirmed this decision on Tuesday.

The rule allowing visitors carries detailed conditions, but it’s the first opportunity for many of the thousands of political detainees who have been locked up for opposing the military’s 2021 seizure of power to meet with their family members.

Guests are required to show evidence of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and a familial connection to the incarcerated individual they are visiting. Additional verification is needed from the visitors’ nearby administrative offices and law enforcement stations.

A relative of a detainee who was found guilty of provoking rebellion and betrayal for protesting against military governance shared with The Associated Press that she was permitted to see her son for approximately 20 minutes in a spacious area after waiting for around two hours along with over 100 other visitors. She visited a correctional facility in Thayarwaddy township located in the Bago region, which is approximately 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Yangon, the largest city in the country.

She expressed joy at being reunited with her son after over a year and being able to provide him with medicine and money, as the last time she saw him was during his trial in August of last year.

According to the woman, guests were required to communicate with the inmates by talking through two wire mesh partitions that were approximately one foot (30 centimeters) apart.

She requested to remain anonymous due to fears of being identified, as the military typically wants to control all information on delicate matters.

The mother was informed by the prison officials that the inmates would be permitted to have visitors once a month. Prior to the pandemic, they were able to see their families at least twice a month.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an organization that tracks the number of arrests and injuries related to the suppression by the military regime, reported that 25,337 individuals have been detained since the 2021 coup and as of Tuesday, 19,616 of them, including former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, remained in custody.

Tun Kyi, a prominent member of the Former Political Prisoners Society, a collective support organization, stated that any improvement in prison conditions should be seen as a strategic move by the military government to gain political advantage and lessen global scrutiny. Several Western countries have imposed economic and diplomatic penalties on the country’s ruling leaders due to their recent seizure of power and history of violating human rights.

Tun Kyi stated that there is no reason to rejoice or be pleased with this situation, as it is simply a means to alleviate international pressure.

Family visitation rights were suspended after the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020. Most sectors of society gradually reduced or dropped testing requirements and other virus-fighting measures since 2022, but family visits to prisoners had remained banned.

Despite the fact that prisons in Myanmar and other places have faced challenges in containing the spread of coronavirus due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, the decision to continue banning visits has been interpreted as a deliberate attempt to discourage political prisoners and emphasize the consequences for those who oppose military authority. While demonstrations against the army’s seizure of power initially took a peaceful approach, they escalated into armed resistance following violent suppression, and this movement now spans a large portion of the nation.

The exact number of detainees in Myanmar, including non-political prisoners, is not publicly available. Myanmar has approximately 66 prisons and 48 labor camps. Officials from the Prison Department in Yangon, Magway region, and Mon state confirmed to AP on Tuesday that visits have commenced. They requested anonymity as they are not authorized to share this information.

The military’s information office has stated that in-person visits with prisoners at the prisons are now permitted. However, visitors must have received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine and be listed on the official household roster of the prisoners. Additional guidelines for visiting are displayed on signboards outside the prisons.