Deadly Shwebo Prison Riot Brought Under Control after 20 Hours

By Zarni Mann 9 May 2019

MANDALAY—A prison riot in Shwebo, Sagaing Division that began Wednesday and left four inmates dead and two injured was finally brought under control on Thursday after about 20 hours, with prison authorities using tear gas to disperse the protesters, the regional chief minister told The Irrawaddy.

Sagaing Division Chief Minister Dr. Myint Naing was on the scene at Shwebo Prison on Thursday, together with the regional minister for security and border affairs, police officers and local authorities, to negotiate with the rioting inmates.

“We told the inmates to calm down and go back to their cells, as they had gathered in the prison compound. Since they did not listen and kept shouting slogans, the prison authorities and police used tear gas to disperse them. Now the situation is under control and stable,” the chief minister told The Irrawaddy.

The chief minister said a negotiating team promised the inmates it would raise their grievances with the central government. However, the inmates said security officials had used unnecessary force to bring the situation under control.

According to the chief minister, the rioting prisoners destroyed Shwebo Prison’s clinic. He added that prison authorities and police seized various kind of weapons such as iron rods, bamboo rods and tools from the rioters.

The riot at Shwebo broke out on Wednesday night as the inmates were staging a protest demanding the government free them under an amnesty. Later the same day, a riot broke out in Maw Lite prison in Sagaing’s Kalay Township.

The protesting inmates reportedly said the presidential pardons issued on April 17, April 26 and May 7 were unfair, as the remaining prisoners had been left without hope of gaining their freedom.

Sagaing Division Chief Minister Dr. Myint Naing (seated in the center, wearing yellow jacket) during a meeting with prison authorities at Shwebo Prison on Thursday. / Voice of Myanmar / Facebook

Prisoners also rioted in Myitkyina Prison in Kachin State, Hpa-an Prison in Karen State, Tharyarwaddy Prison in Pegu division and Pathein Prison in Irrawaddy Division, where the inmates demanded a wider prisoner amnesty from the government, as well as permission to meet media representatives inside the prison, and a meeting with the Human Rights Council.

All of the prison riots aside from the one at Shwebo Prison were brought under control without casualties.

“The prison authorities told us that the riot [in Shwebo] erupted after a clash between inmates and a warden. Later, on Wednesday night, the prison authorities opened fire to disperse the rioters, leaving four inmates dead,” the chief minister told The Irrawaddy.

During the riot, an inmate used a mobile phone to live-stream the situation inside the prison on Facebook. He posted many video clips and pictures of the riot, leading locals to question the security situation at the prison. It is illegal to possess a mobile phone in prison.

“The prison authorities have found the inmates who posted live streaming video, pictures and video clips on Facebook. The prison authorities are conducting an investigation and legal action will be taken against those who incited the riot, as per prison rules and regulations,” the chief minister said.

“I can understand the frustration of being imprisoned and not getting a chance at freedom while the others are freed. However, rioting is not the answer,” he said.

On April 17, 9,535 inmates were released under a presidential pardon. On April 26, another 6,948 received pardons, followed by 6,520 on May 7.

A total of 57 inmates from Shwebo Prison were released on April 26 and 512 were freed on May 7.