Suspicions Surround Death of Man Arrested for Mandalay Protest

By Zarni Mann 6 June 2019

MANDALAY—A local from Aung Thabyay Village died while in prison on Wednesday according to his family.

Ko Tun Myint Win (38) was detained at Mandalay’s Obo Prison on June 2, after locals held a protest against a coal-powered cement factory being constructed in Aung Thabyay Village in Mandalay’s Patheingyi Township.

“The prison authorities informed us that he died in prison due to an illness and that his body was sent to Mandalay General Hospital’s mortuary,” said Ma Myint, a relative of the deceased.

According to the prison authorities, Ko Tun Myint Win died due to high fever and alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

“He was brought to prison on June 3 and he fell sick and was admitted to the prison hospital before being transferred to Mandalay General Hospital on the afternoon of June 4 and died the next day,” said an official of Mandalay’s Obo Prison who asked not to be named.

“According to the prison doctor, he was suffering from high fever and alcohol withdrawal syndrome. His body was sent to the mortuary at Mandalay General Hospital for autopsy and a case was opened at Aung Myay Tharzan Township Police Station to investigate the cause of death,” he said.

However, Ko Tun Myint Win’s relatives have denied that he suffered from alcoholism and said he didn’t participate in the protest.

The deceased’s brother, U Wimala, told The Irrawaddy that he saw an injury on his brother’s head and that he believes he had been tortured and that his death was a result of the injury.

“The forensics experts and the authorities showed us the body before they did the postmortem examination and we found an injury behind his left ear. His head was cut and swollen. There was blood coming from his ear too,” said U Wimala.

“We want justice for the death of my brother because he is not an alcoholic and we believe his death was not related to alcohol withdrawal. We believe he was tortured—maybe at the police station or maybe in the prison,” he added.

“He drank sometimes, but he was not an alcoholic,” said Ma Myint, the deceased’s cousin.

“He [currently] lives in Meikhtila. He was back here (Aung Thabyay) to work as a mason to build a shop in the village when he was arrested,” she added.

Ko Tun Myint Win was the son of Daw Aye, a 70-year-old protester who is being charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Regional Road and Transportation Law for participating in a protest against the Alpha cement factory in July 2018. She was released on bail due to her poor health condition.

Seven protesters were arrested and another 25 locals from Aung Thabyay are being sued under the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Regional Road and Transportation Law and a number of other laws including incitement of violence and arson, after a police crackdown of the protest in May this year. Protesters were urging the Union government to intervene in the conflict and demanding that the Alpha Cement Factory, owned by China’s Myint Investment Co., be scrapped.

According to the locals, the company conducted soil testing at the site in 2014 and bought 242 hectares from residents after securing permission to build the factory and mine a nearby hill for raw materials.

Local residents sent complaints to the regional government in 2014, and the project was halted. However, construction resumed in 2015, prompting further objections from locals. In 2016 they staged a series of protests against the factory.

The protests escalated in 2018 when the Department of Road Transportation announced plans to expand the village road connecting the cement factory with the main road.

About 18 locals are still facing trial at Patheingyi Township Court since last year.