Beyond the Headlines: Junta minister urges staff at Myanmar’s notorious prisons to tighten security

Junta affairs

The Myanmar junta’s home affairs minister Lt-Gen Soe Htut visited three prisons in Ayeyarwady, Yangon and Bago regions last week, according to military mouthpiece Global New Light of Myanmar. The Insein, Pathein, and Taungoo prisons are all notorious for abusing inmates, and Soe Htut’s visit to the facility in Pathein on January 11 came nearly a week after a political prisoner was killed in a violent crackdown on protest there. The fatal assault also reportedly involved the discovery of a mobile phone in the victim’s possession. Soe Htut told staff at Pathein Prison that they were required to conduct thorough searches of inmates’ cells with the help of the police force since “restricted materials” may be sent to the facility. When he visited Insein Prison the next day, Soe Htut oversaw security procedures in the facility’s mailroom and control room. In October, bombs exploded near the mailroom of the site and casualties were reported following the blast and due to the subsequent gunfire by guards. The military council’s home affairs minister then went to Taungoo Prison where he addressed security concerns and instructed staff to practise anti-riot drills. 


Photos of the entrance to the city hall in the Karenni State capital of Loikaw where the artillery exploded (Office of the commander-in-chief of defence services)

A junta-sponsored celebration to mark Kayah (Karenni) State Day on the morning of January 15 in state capital Loikaw’s city hall was targeted by artillery fire, according to local sources and military-run media. In an announcement released later that day, the office of the commander-in-chief of defence services accused the opposition groups of the People’s Defence Forces and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) of attacking the celebration site. According to the announcement, a “male civilian” was killed and eight people including members of the junta’s security forces were injured by the artillery, which also exploded in a ward near the hall. Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify the junta’s account of the incident. A KNPP spokesperson rejected the junta’s accusation that his group was involved and denied responsibility for the attack in a phone interview to Myanmar Now on January 16. Regime personnel present at the ceremony included members of the military council Saw Daniel, Sai Lone Saing, and Shwe Kyein and the junta’s border affairs minister Lt-Gen Tun Tun Naung, ethnic affairs minister Saw Tun Aung Myint, and state chief minister Zaw Myo Tin. 

Dr Hkalam Samson (Hkalam Samson / Facebook)

The Myanmar regime added an incitement charge to the case against detained ethnic Kachin religious leader Dr Hkalam Samson, according to a relative who spoke to Myanmar Now on January 11. Dr Samson, a reverend and former chair of the Kachin Baptist Convention, was arrested on December 5 at the Mandalay International Airport, where he intended to board a flight to Thailand for medical treatment. An officer from the Northern Regional Military Command headquarters in Myitkyina first charged him under Section 17(1) of the colonial-era Unlawful Association Act. He is currently being held in Myitkyina Prison and has not been allowed to meet with his family members during his more than one month in detention, the source added. He reportedly spent around 24 hours being interrogated by the junta before being charged.



An ammonia gas leak occurred at an ice factory in Yangon’s Hlaing Township on January 12, causing many residents living near the facility to suffer from burning eyes and respiratory problems due to exposure. Around 20 people were reportedly sent to local hospitals by rescue workers, while firefighters from the Myanmar Fire Services Department extinguished the gas leak after a few hours. Following the leak, many residents in the area around the factory temporarily left to stay in other wards, fearing further exposure. 

Firefighters try to control an ammonia leak at an ice factory in Hlaing Township (Myanmar Fire Services Department / Facebook)

On January 13, a fire broke out at the Grand Royal distillery in Hmawbi Township, and was not extinguished until the next morning at 7am. According to a report by the Global New Light of Myanmar, some 60 fire trucks with around 550 firefighters were deployed to put out the fire. Three tanks with a capacity of 50,000 gallons, six tanks with a capacity of 20,000 gallons, and three storage units were destroyed in the incident, the report said. Citing a spokesperson from the Myanmar Fire Services Department, the report said 20 people including 14 fire brigade members, a resident and five personnel from a social welfare service organisation were injured in the blaze. The cause of the fire was unconfirmed at the time of reporting, but Grand Royal issued a statement on January 16 saying that it was “believed to [have been] an accident” and noted that the main distillery, bottling plant and stored aged whisky casks were not damaged.

Fire trucks attempt to put out a fire at the Grand Royal spirits factory on January 13 (Myanmar Fire Services Department / Facebook)


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