Inmates at Yangon’s Insein Prison, where thousands of political prisoners are currently being held for their involvement in anti-regime activities, rebelled against prison authorities by shouting anti-regime slogans on Friday morning.
The show of defiance by yelling anti-regime slogans happened in an annex jail where detained youth protesters and striking civil servants, imprisoned for their involvement in the civil disobedience movement (CDM) against the military regime, are housed, according to a source close to Insein Prison.
Witnesses said six truckloads of soldiers were rushed into the compound to secure the prison.
Following the protest, the director of the Yangon Region Prison Department told The Irrawaddy that it “has finished, nothing happened” and that the prisoners were now “under control.”
After the protest, The Irrawaddy learned that negotiations were under way inside the prison. Friday’s incident has led to concerns for the safety of political prisoners held by the military regime, which seized power from the country’s ousted civilian government in February and has subsequently launched brutal crackdowns against peaceful protesters and thrown many into prisons, denying their basic rights.
“We are concerned about torture and potential additional charges being filed against the political prisoners as a consequence, if the protest is dubbed a prison riot. Such incidents happened under the previous military dictatorships,” said a representative of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
It cited an incident in September 1990 in which political prisoners were assembled in the central ground of the prison and beaten. “At that time, some were beaten to death by prison staff and soldiers arriving in military trucks. Some were moved to prisons further away and some were put into solitary confinement for months.”
The AAPP urged the international community to monitor the situation and help prevent such severe human rights violations from happening.
Following the incident at Insein Prison, prisoners at Shwe Bo Prison in Sagaing Region and Obo Prison in Mandalay Region also protested, according to the AAPP.
It said the housing of anti-regime protesters in an overcrowded place, a spike in COVID-19 infections, and a lack of proper protection against and treatment of the communicable disease were the underlying reasons for the protest inside the prison on Friday.
An additional reason could be that the regime has begun releasing inmates convicted of nonpolitical offenses while continuing to detain and arrest more political prisoners, the AAPP said.
Since Thursday, the military regime has been releasing those detained on charges such as theft, drug offenses or violations of the Police Act.
U Khin Maung Myint, a lawyer in Yangon, told The Irrawaddy that “We heard the protesters and the Prison Department officials are negotiating over three demands put forward by the protesters” regarding conditions inside Insein Prison.
According to him, they “demand the unconditional release of those charged for incitement under 505A of the Penal Code, as inmates facing other charges have been released this week; proper treatment of ill people in the prison, as sickness is on the rise; and a relaxation of restrictions put in place by the new prison warden.”
Insein Prison houses some 13,000 people, and a special court to hear the trials of detained anti-regime protesters was set up there in March. It is currently under lockdown from July 8 to 25 and trials inside the prison have also been suspended, following a spike in COVID-19 cases in Yangon Region.
It is not yet known whether the lockdown will continue. U Khin Maung Myint said if the COVID-19 cases continued to rise, it is likely that the suspension of trials inside Insein Prison will be extended.
A junta spokesperson this week told reporters that “375 male and female inmates” had been infected with COVID-19 in prisons across the nation and that only six of them had died from the disease, while some 40 percent (152 people) had recovered and been discharged from hospitals.
The Myanmar junta-controlled Health Ministry on Friday reported 6,701 new COVID-19 cases with 319 deaths.
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