Political Inmate Killed as Myanmar Junta Forces Open Fire on Protest

By The Irrawaddy 9 January 2023

One political prisoner was killed and around 70 were injured, nine severely, when junta security forces opened fire on a protest by inmates at Pathein Prison in Ayeyarwady Region on Friday.

The slain victim was identified as Ko Wai Yan Phyo, 35, a resident of Chaungtha Beach in Pathein. He was detained in Pantanaw Township in June last year and charged with terrorism.

“He was hit by three bullets to the head and died immediately,” a source in Pathein Prison said. “Nine other inmates remain on the critical list at Pathein Hospital heavily guarded by junta security forces,” he added.

A photo released by the junta claiming to show destruction caused by the protest at Pathein Prison.

The protest broke out when one political prisoner, identified as Ko Mei Gyi, failed to return after being taken away and tortured by prison officers.

“The prison governor and staff took away eight political prisoners on the evening of Jan. 5, alleging that they had found a phone belonging to Ko Mei Gyi,” the source said. “They were badly beaten and interrogated the whole night. Seven were sent back to their cells the following morning, but not Ko Mei Gyi. When inmates demanded to see Ko Mei Gyi, authorities launched a crackdown.”

A unit of about 30 junta policemen arrived at the prison and opened fire on the protesters on Friday.

Citing prison sources, former political prisoner U Tun Kyi said the phone’s discovery was just an excuse to target eight political prisoners, including Ko Mei Gyi, who had been protesting the construction of a prison gallows to hang a striking teacher on death row.

“It is as if prisons have a license to slaughter political prisoners and it is not a crime to kill them, he said. “Authorities at different levels help cover up crimes against political prisoners. Perpetrators in this Pathein Prison case must be held accountable.”

Following the crackdown, more than 60 political prisoners were forced to sit in the sun for hours before being beaten by prison guards and convicted criminals on Friday.

Prison authorities have also banned deliveries of food and packages to Pathein inmates. “Those who went to deliver food to detained relatives [on Friday] said they heard the noise of beatings from outside the prison,” a source told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. “I was told that the [prisoners’] heads were shaved today and they were also forced to stay under the sun the whole day.”

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights watchdog that monitors junta arrests and killings, said Pathein prison is managed by four regime officials, namely prison governor Nay Min Htet, Pathein city police surveillance chief Myint Aung, and police officer Kyaw Oo.

A photo released by the junta claiming to show destruction caused by the protest at Pathein Prison.

“Those who ordered these crimes at Pathein Prison, and the prison officers who carried them out, are responsible and must be held to account,” said the AAPP statement, which condemned the use of extrajudicial murder and torture in the crackdown.

A regime statement said the incident began after guards confiscated a keypad phone from a prisoner on Thursday night and took disciplinary action. About 70 prisoners escaped from their cells on Friday morning and attempted to attack prison staff while damaging property, it added. Police arrived at the prison at 9.45 am and used sticks and shields while also firing “warning shots” to stop the “riot”, the statement said.

It claimed that one prisoner had died and 63 others were injured during fighting among themselves.

Two policemen and nine prison staff were also reportedly injured during the incident.

Local sources dismissed the junta statement as a lie. They said they heard four gunshots followed by a burst of gunfire in the prison.

“I doubt inmates would employ violence given they have nothing to use as weapons. [Political] prisoners would only make verbal demands and stage hunger protests,” said a local resident.