MANDALAY— Six prisons across the country have been hit by rioting as inmates vent their anger at not having been included in Tuesday’s presidential pardon.
Following a riot Wednesday at Shwebo Prison in Sagaing Division, hundreds of inmates staged protests to demand their freedom at Maw Lite Prison in Sagaing’s Kalay Township and at the prison in Hpa-an, Karen State on the same day.
Police and prison authorities were able to bring the unrest at Maw Lite and Hpa-an prisons under control quickly.
Protests were also reported at the prison in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Tharyarwaddy Prison in Pegu Division, and Pathein Prison in Irrawaddy Division on Thursday morning. Myitkyina and Tharyarwaddy prisons both boosted security and banned visits by relatives.
According to sources at Shwebo Prison, authorities opened fire on Wednesday night after a warden was assaulted by rioting inmates, leading to four deaths.
The sources said four inmates died on the spot and at least five were injured. The Irrawaddy was not able to obtain confirmation of the deaths from prison authorities as of Thursday morning, however.
Sagaing Division Chief Minister Dr. Myint Naing was at Shwebo Prison on Thursday morning discussing the situation with prison authorities and representatives of the inmates.
According to Shwebo Prison authorities, the inmates have requested permission to meet with the media to demand an investigation into the shooting deaths.
The rioting inmates demanded equal treatment after more than 6,000 prisoners were released on Tuesday under a presidential pardon.
“We’ve talked with them and told them that we will submit their demands to the government officials. They have calmed down but are still unsatisfied, for they are saying that famous people who received the same punishment [as them] were freed,” Police Colonel U Aung Kyaw, who was at the Maw Lite Prison to control the situation, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. He was referring to the release of Ko Moe Aung Yin, an actor who was put behind bars under the Anti-Narcotics Law and released on May 7 after receiving a presidential pardon.
Some questioned whether the prion riots were orchestrated to create unrest in the country.
Lawyer U Khin Maung Myint, who once worked as a prison superintendent, told The Irrawaddy that the riots could be the result of a misunderstanding among the inmates.
“The inmates are not clear about [the difference between] amnesties and presidential pardons. In an amnesty, every inmate is eligible and it is done by the commander-in-chief. A presidential pardon is given by the president to certain persons after a certain number of months or years of the prison term is served. The inmates only know about the amnesty. Since they were not among those freed, they staged the protest,” he said.
The lawyer said that prison overcrowding could be another reason for the riots.
“Since the prisons are overcrowded, the prison authorities are badly outnumbered. The inmates are uncomfortable and there are many problems causing them to search for a way out. This could be one of the reasons leading to the prison riot, as they were not among those who received a presidential pardon after three rounds [of pardons] since the Myanmar New year,” he said.
On April 17, this year’s traditional New Year, 9,535 inmates were freed by presidential pardon. Another 6,948 were freed on April 26 and 6,520 on May 7.
“To ease the rioting, in my opinion, the government needs to review the punishments of the inmates and consider an amnesty. But we must be cautious; we do not want to create an incentive to riot by granting amnesties. Handling prison riots is very tricky and a headache for the government,” he said.