Myanmar Junta Suspends Trials Inside Insein Prison Due to COVID-19

By The Irrawaddy 7 July 2021

The military regime has suspended trials inside Insein Prison in Yangon due to rising COVID-19 infections in the commercial capital, according to defense lawyers.

Since March, the junta has set up temporary courts inside prisons in Yangon and elsewhere in the country to hear the cases of political prisoners, most of whom are charged with incitement under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code.

“The trials were suspended as of Tuesday. There are around 13,000 people being detained in Insein Prison. The regime said it is safe inside the prison, but they are concerned that people who come from outside will spread the virus,” said legal advisor U Khin Maung Myint.

“There are between 200 and 300 people who enter the prison daily. It is part of a temporary preventative measure as one infection can lead to an outbreak inside the prison,” added U Khin Maung Myint.

It remains unclear how long the trials will be suspended for, he said.

There are 38 temporary courts inside Insein Prison each representing a township in Yangon, apart from Cocokyun Township and other townships where the junta has imposed martial law.

Judges have suggested to defense lawyers that the trials could continue without the presence of defendants charged under Section 505(a).

“Judges have asked us if we want to continue the trials on behalf of the defendants. We can’t. All the cases are political charges under Section 505(a). So it won’t be fair unless those cases are heard in their presence. Only then will they be able to defend themselves. And we have to consult with the defendants when we need to challenge the prosecutor’s arguments,” said U Khin Maung Myint.

Family members of the detainees and outsiders are not allowed to attend trials inside prison, with only judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors present.

There have been reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in Insein Prison, as well as in prisons in Taungoo and Magwe. The Irrawaddy was unable to verify those reports.

3,602 new coronavirus cases and 52 deaths were recorded on Tuesday, while 12,832 tests were carried out, according to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports.

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