Myanmar prison guards injure more than 80 inmates when argument turns violent

Guards injured more than 80 political prisoners at a prison in central Myanmar after an argument turned violent, an incident which observers say is typical in the prison system since the junta took control of the country in a coup more than two years ago.

The incident occurred on Feb. 4 at Mandalay’s Obo Prison while a group of inmates, all female, were in line to get hot water, and some of the women began arguing with the guards.

“That’s when the prison guards came in and beat them. It’s said that the guards who came in and beat included some male staff too,” a family member of one of the prisoners told Radio Free Asia’s Burmese Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“And then the prisoners were punished with solitary confinement. … But I don’t know if [my family member] was among the ones sent to solitary. This is all I know for now. Their news doesn’t spread much these days,” the family member said.

Since the junta ousted Myanmar’s democratically elected government in Feb. 2021, it began filling the country’s prisons with pro-democracy activists who were opposed to the coup. Reports have surfaced that these political prisoners are routinely beaten, sent to solitary confinement, transferred to prisons far away from their families, tortured, or even killed in an effort to silence them and dissuade others from resisting junta rule.

In the Feb. 4 incident, the guards employed rubber and wooden batons and slingshots on the crowd. Collectively, the women suffered two lacerated ears, six skull injuries, a broken hand, an eye injury, three slingshot impacts near the eyes, and around 70 milder slingshot injuries, the shadow National Unity Government’s Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs said in a statement on Feb. 15.

According to that statement, 42 of the injured inmates were sent to another prison building, two were sent to solitary confinement, and another 40 were sent to separated cells. Additionally, the prisoners may not receive visits from their families for one month.

RFA contacted Naing Win, the junta spokesman for the prison department, to find out about the situation at Obo Prison, but he did not respond.

Malice against activists

These types of human rights violations against political prisoners are typical of the junta because they hold malice against those who support democracy, Aung Myo Min, the shadow government’s human rights minister told RFA.

“Political prisoners are those who bravely stand for rights and democracy in the fight against the military junta. That’s why they were specifically targeted,” he said. “It’s not just the military officers who arrest them, but the prison officials and staff also hate them because they think that the political prisoners are an extra burden for them. As a result, [they] continue to get tortured and suffer unjust and brutal punishments.”

The Obo prison incident was one of several examples of prison violence in this year alone.

Two inmates were killed and 70 others were injured on Jan. 6 at Pathein Prison in the Ayeyarwady region on Jan. 6.

In the second week of January, about 700 inmates at Yangon’s Insein Prison were suddenly transferred to other prisons. On Jan. 25, two Insein inmates were sent to solitary confinement for reporting problems to prison officials, their relatives and other sources close to them told RFA.

The oppression that inmates suffer is invisible to the public and the international community, an activist who started an inmate advocacy group called “Let’s Send Things to Prisoners,” told RFA.

“I must say that these incidents should never happen whether inside or outside prisons. But since the prisoners are in [authorities’] hands, our words have no effect on them,” the activist said on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “It looks like [inmates] have to endure whatever pain [authorities] inflict on them.

The activist called on the shadow government and other diplomatic officials to work together to make the rest of the world aware of the situation in Myanmar’s prisons.

“Many people are being unfairly tortured in prisons without the people knowing it,” the activist said.

The prison guards should worry that they could one day be found guilty of crimes against the inmates under their charge, Kyaw Win, the executive director of the U.K.-based Burma Human Rights Network, told RFA.

“I’d like to warn the prison authorities, officials, and staff that their personal records are out, and the people know who they are,” he said. “The military generals and officers will just save themselves in the end. They will not care about these low level staff. That’s why these people should see the dangers they are creating for themselves.”

The junta-administered Myanmar National Human Rights Commission released a report on Feb. 2 based on interviews with hundreds of prisoners nationwide, that stated allegations of human rights violations were being seriously investigated, but the report did not specifically mention that any violations were found.

An official of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said that the military intentionally commits human rights violations against its imprisoned political opponents.

“Those who allowed, ordered and personally committed such violations and torture will definitely receive punishment for their crimes one day,” the official said. “We hear incidents of such torture happening everywhere and I want to say that those who commit those cruelties will definitely pay for their crimes.”

As of Tuesday the junta has arrested 19,810 people since the beginning of the coup, 15,953 of whom are currently detained, including those who have been sentenced, according to the group’s statistics.

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