Prisoners Held by Myanmar Junta Dying of COVID-19

By The Irrawaddy 27 July 2021

At least nine people have died in prison from COVID-19 during the third wave of coronavirus, according to junta-controlled newspapers.

With COVID-19 infections spiking across the country, 566 cases were recorded in jails across Myanmar as of July 15 and 314 prisoners are still receiving treatment.

On July 20, the military regime reported that six inmates had died from coronavirus in prison. Three more died between July 20 and July 25. The military regime did not specify which prisons the inmates died in.

All the victims had underlying conditions, while none of the prisoners receiving treatment are in a serious condition, claimed the junta media.

U Nyan Win, a central executive committee (CEC) member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s long-time personal lawyer, died of COVID-19 on July 20 after catching the virus while detained in Insein Prison.

Another senior NLD leader, U Han Thar Myint, was also infected with COVID-19 in Insein Prison and is currently being treated at Yangon General Hospital.

Insein Prison inmates staged a protest on July 23, complaining about overcrowding, COVID-19 infections, the lack of proper protection against the virus and inadequate treatment for those infected.

Some 20 political prisoners were killed by junta forces during the protest, with others placed in solitary confinement, according to independent media outlets.

However, Correctional Department officials have denied the violence. The spokesperson for the Correctional Department, U Aye Chan Kyaw, said on Sunday, “We did not beat or put anyone in solitary confinement arbitrarily”.

The All Burma Federation of Student Unions claimed that the union’s CEC member Ko Zaw Htet Naing and others were placed in solitary.

Concerns over the safety of inmates in Insein Prison have arisen due to fatalities that occurred during crackdowns inside prisons by previous military regimes. The current junta is under pressure to allow visits to inmates by concerned relatives.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said it was worried about the safety of inmates, as people who live near Insein Prison reported seeing military trucks driving into the jail following the inmates protest.

15 foreign embassies in Myanmar issued a joint statement urging the military regime to respect the basic right of all prisoners to proper healthcare.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released a statement on Saturday saying it is deeply concerned about the increasing impact of COVID-19 in Myanmar, including in detention centers.

The ICRC said it is seeking the approval of the Correctional Department to resume its humanitarian visits and support to address COVID-19 in prisons and detention centers.

Myanmar had recorded 274,155 COVID-19 cases with 7,507 deaths nationwide as of Monday, according to the junta-controlled Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS). The COVID-19 death toll in the third wave has exceeded the combined total of fatalities in the first and second waves.

The MOHS figures are widely believed to be an underestimate, as charities in Yangon that help transport dead bodies to cemeteries have reported seeing over a thousand bodies daily since the second week of July.

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