The President of Myanmar Thein Sein announced the release in a statement on state television on Monday, adding that all other prisoners’ sentences would be reduced by one year and death sentences would be commuted to life imprisonment.
But human rights groups believe that most of the released prisoners will be common criminals and not political prisoners.
US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch called Sein’s decision a “sick joke”.
“This is a pathetic response to international calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners,” said the group's Asia director Elaine Person.
UK-based Amnesty International also criticised the move. The group’s Myanmar expert Benjamin Zawacki called it “astonishingly insufficient”.
The group called for a comprehensive release of “prisoners of conscience” in the country.
“We reiterate our call that all political prisoners be released immediately,” a US State Department official said.
A US envoy is expected to visit the country on Wednesday.