Prison Riots Were Coordinated, President’s Office Says

By Zarni Mann 10 May 2019

MANDALAY—Riots at seven prisons on Wednesday and Thursday were linked and the result of a concerted campaign to incite unrest, the President’s Office said Thursday.

“The demands made at some of the prisons were identical. Some inmates even live-streamed videos of the riots on social media using mobile phones,” the office said in an announcement Thursday evening after the riots were brought under control.

“These facts demonstrate that the riots were linked and the result of incitement,” the announcement said.

The President’s Office also said it would investigate the riots at the seven prisons, in which inmates demanded to be released under an amnesty.

According to the President’s Office, riots occurred at Maw Lite Prison in Kalay Township of Sagaing Division and Hpa-an Prison in Karen State on May 8; and at Shwebo Prison in Sagaing Division, Myitkyina Prison in Kachin State, Tavoy Prison in Tannintharyi Division, Tharyarwaddy Prison in Pegu Division, and Pathein Prison in Irrawaddy Division on May 9.

During the riots, inmates urged the government to declare an amnesty for which every inmate would be eligible, to allow the media to visit inside the prison, and to allow inmates to meet with the Human Rights Council.

The riot at Shwebo Prison was the most intense, lasting around 20 hours. During the riot, four inmates died and two were injured when prison authorities opened fire to disperse the crowd. The prison was eventually brought under control on Thursday after prison authorities and police used force to disperse the protesters.

Also on Thursday, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPPB) issued a statement calling on the government to commission an independent investigation not conducted by officials.

“The government should consider an investigation of the prison riots and the deaths of the inmates without the participation and influence of members of the Ministry of Home Affairs and [other] government officials,” the group said in the statement.

The association, which has long experience dealing with the prison system, said it was astonished to learn that the riots had been live-streamed from inside the prison. Mobile phones are strictly prohibited inside prisons.

“We have many suspicions, as we noted that the inmates’ demands were identical [at all the prisons] and the riots were simultaneous,” it said in the statement.

The AAPPB also urged the government to investigate the causes of the suspicious prison riots, to ensure that inmates understand the procedures relating to amnesties and presidential pardons, and to boost security inside prisons.

“Force should not be used to disperse protesting inmates in the future; only non-lethal means should be used,” it said.

“And for the long term, a committee to monitor inmates’ reactions to amnesties and pardons should be formed; programs empowering inmates should be launched; and the media should be allowed to report on conditions inside prisons in accordance with prison rules and regulations,” it added.

The group also urged that Parliament and the government be briefed about the management of prisons to ensure transparency, and that the Prison Act, which was enacted in 1894, be replaced with more up-to-date legislation as soon as possible.

On April 17, the traditional Myanmar New Year’s day, 9,535 inmates were freed after being granted presidential pardons. Another 6,948 were released on April 26 and 6,520 on May 7.