RANGOON — Released detainees claimed that 20 women arrested during a recent crackdown on student protests were administered mandatory pregnancy tests while in detention, drawing criticism from activists who view the practice as unusual, unnecessary and intended to cause humiliation.
Officials at Tharyarwaddy Prison, where the detainees were being held, could not be reached for comment. Pegu Division deputy police chief Win Sein told The Irrawaddy on Monday that he was unaware of such testing but that the facility could have a policy of testing upon admittance.
Nineteen-year-old Thitsar Aye Myat Mon and Tint Tint Khaing, 22, both told The Irrawaddy that all of the women detained were subjected to urine tests with no explanation from prison officials.
Tint Tint Khaing said the testing occurred the morning after their arrest, and that prison officials told them the practice was “according to procedures” but that “they didn’t say why.”
The tests were administered to all female detainees before any of them were arraigned, they said. Thitsar Aye Myat Mon and Tint Tint Khaing were both released from custody last week and are not facing charges.
Thitsar Aye Myat Mon said she believed the testing was done to find ways to defame student activists, who have enjoyed much public support throughout the movement and in the wake of two recent crackdowns that ended with many injuries and the arrest of more than 100 people.
Ma Thida, a writer and former political prisoner, called the practice “a disgrace.” She questioned whether authorities had legitimate health-based reasons for testing the detainees, remarking that she was never subjected to such a test during her time in prison.
“It would be different if they explained why they were doing it, but if this is done with the intention of smearing someone… that would be dishonest and based on a bad mindset,” she said.
Another female former political prisoner, Ma Thandar, echoed her skepticism. An award-winning human rights activist and widow of slain journalist Par Gyi, Ma Thandar suggested that authorities could be “trying to damage the image of the student movement as the protests get bigger.”
Ma Thandar also said she had never experienced such testing and had never heard of the practice being used in Burma’s jails or prisons before.
In other parts of the world, the administering of pregnancy tests to inmates, particularly before they have been convicted of a crime and admitted to a prison, has caused controversy, as some view it as a violation of a woman’s right to privacy and—in certain cases—a tactic of humiliation.
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union sued a California jail over a policy of testing all women in custody under 60 years of age. The group said that concerns about women’s health should be addressed through comprehensive, voluntary health exams.