Political prisoners in Myanmar’s second-largest city Mandalay staged a rare protest marking the anniversary of an Aug. 8, 1988 uprising against military rule, singing and shouting slogans in a demonstration that ended with reports of beatings and gunshots heard behind the walls, sources said.
The prisoners are among the more than 5,500 people arrested in the suppression of the opposition to the Feb. 1 military overthrow of the country’s elected government, a violent crackdown that has killed 962 civilians, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
The protest at Mandalay’s Obo Prison began at around 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, one city resident living near the prison told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Monday.
“At about 9:15 p.m. I heard chanting and shouts coming from behind the prison walls,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “When I came out of my house, I heard gunshots, and I heard nothing more after that,” he said.
“Then, at about 10:30, I saw three military vehicles and four passenger cars coming out of the prison. They left Aung Chanthar Ward and headed towards the GTC School,” the source said, referring to Mandalay’s Government Technical College.
“Some people said some prisoners had been beaten up,” he said.
Reached for comment, Prisons Department Deputy Director Chan Aye Kyaw said that authorities were now trying to identify the leaders of the protest.
“Last night, inmates at the Mandalay Central Prison started shouting slogans when the lights-out alarm sounded at 9:00 p.m.,” he said. “Around 30 to 40 people began chanting slogans and singing songs. We couldn’t stop them, so we informed the officer-in-charge, and he and his team arrived and the shouting stopped.”
None of the protesters was injured, and no one was put in solitary confinement, the official said.
“We are trying to find out who was involved in the shouting and singing, that’s all,” Chan Ay Kyaw said, adding that protest leaders when identified would be punished according to prison regulations.
‘A lot of people got beaten up’
A member of the Mandalay University Students’ Union told RFA that despite official statements that no beatings had been inflicted, “according to reports we got, there were a lot of people who were beaten up, and some were put into solitary confinement.”
“We don’t have any details yet,” he said, adding, “It all started in Block 3 where young people and students are kept. It could have been about the 8888 anniversary, and it could have been about COVID.”
Myanmar’s 8888 uprising was launched on Aug. 8, 1988 by students in Yangon, then the country’s capital, as a protest against one-party rule by Gen. Ne Win, who had ruled the country since 1962. Protests across the country were finally suppressed by the army on Sept. 18, with about 3,000 people reported killed.
The Students’ Union issued a statement Monday calling for an end to the violent crackdown on prisoners in connection with the incident, for the release of political prisoners “unjustly detained” amid a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for political prisoners’ full access to medical care, including COVID prevention.
“After hearing about the protest in the prison, our family was worried,” said a resident of Maha Aungmyay township, two of whose family members were arrested after authorities found a sword and a National League for Democracy (NLD) banner in their home.
“We heard that a few inmates were shot dead in the prison, and we were really worried when we heard this. We asked out lawyer about this, but he didn’t know anything,” he said.
As news of the Obo Prison protest spread on social media at around 10:00 p.m., a group of young people in Monywa city in Myanmar’s Sagaing region staged a protest near the Monywa Prison to demand the release of political prisoners and an end to the country’s military dictatorship.
At least 20 student leaders of the All Burma Students’ Union (ABSU) detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison are now being held in solitary confinement in connection with a prison protest there on July 23.
On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratically elected government, claiming voter fraud had led to a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party in the country’s November 2020 election.
The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide demonstrations calling for a return to civilian rule, killing at least 962 people over the past six months.
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