Prison guards in Myanmar shot dead a political prisoner on Friday and injured more than 60 others – including eight seriously – after prisoners protested the beating of the victim a day earlier, H Talk Asia has learned.
The Pathein prison incident is the latest in a string of more than 15 violent crackdowns on protests by political prisoners – which authorities have described as “riots” – in the nearly two years since Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup.
On Thursday night, guards discovered a cellphone owned by Wai Yan Phyo, a prisoner of conscience who has served 28 years on unknown charges, sources at Pathein Prison and others who help political prisoners at the facility said.
After the discovery, guard Wai Yan Phyo – also known as Mae Gyi – and two other inmates dragged them out of their cells and beat them all night before bringing them back on Friday morning, the sources said.
Tun Kyi, a leading member of a rights group called the Former Political Prisoners’ Society, said when the three men explained to their fellow inmates what had happened to them and called for their release, the authorities refused, sparking a protest from other prisoners. The guards responded by beating the protesters and opening fire, he said.
“Around 9:30 a.m., police and prison personnel together restrained about 60 prisoners [angering other inmates]. Then there was shooting,” said Tun Kyi.
“Wai Yan Phyo was hit in the head by three bullets and died instantly. The main reason was that he was taken out [of his cell] because a cell phone was found in his possession and [the guards] tortured him all night,” he added.
Among the wounded were Pho La Pyae, Win Min Htet, Soe Yu Kyaw, Wai Zaw Lat, Aung Tun Myint, Kyaw Ye Aung, Ye Thway Ni and an eighth man who has yet to be identified, Tun Kyi said. The eight people are in critical condition, suffering from gunshot wounds and other injuries.
According to Tun Kyi, the sections in Pathein prison that house political prisoners are now under strict surveillance.
Later on Friday, the junta’s intelligence team issued a press release saying police and prison officials had “taken security measures to control a riot” at the complex, which “was started by inmates who were concerned about the investigation into a man with a mobile phone discovered inmates were upset.”
The statement also blamed a “clash” between the two sides for the deaths and injuries. Two police officers and nine prison staff were also injured in the incident, it said.
In response to reports of the incident, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) of Thailand described the authorities’ treatment of Wai Yan Phyo and the two other inmates as “torture” and called it “a grave and flagrant violation of human rights”.
The scene at Pathein Prison in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady region after prison guards killed one inmate and injured more than 60 on January 6, 2023. Photo credit: Military of Myanmar
Series of raids on the prison
In August, RFA learned that since the military coup, authorities in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison, as well as Ohbo Prison, Tharrawaddy Prison, Kalay Prison, Pathein Prison, Bago Prison and Pyay Prison in Mandalay violent crackdown on at least 15 peaceful protests by political prisoners, based on analysis of local news reports and interviews with families of political prisoners.
Authorities killed at least seven prisoners in a single incident at Kalay prison in March last year, which residents in the area said was the result of a “crackdown on those protesting abuse” at the facility.
A former political prisoner at Insein Prison told RFA that Myanmar has a unique history of prison protests – with prisoners fighting military rule from within the prison walls.
After the junta executed four prominent activists in July – the first judicial executions in more than 30 years – prisoners on death row are experiencing renewed trauma and fear for their own fate, he added.
According to AAPP (Burma), authorities in Myanmar have killed more than 2,700 civilians and arrested nearly 17,000 others since the coup – mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests. While authorities have released around 3,500 people, nearly 13,400 have been sentenced to prison or remain in detention.
Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.