Wai Moe Naing, leader of the Monywa People’s Strike Committee, is among the political prisoners participating in a mass hunger strike at Sagaing Region’s Monywa Prison since last week, sources familiar with conditions at the prison said.
The strike was a response to the harsh restrictions prison authorities had imposed on inmates, including limitations on the receipt of care packages and stricter enforcement of contraband rules.
A “special search force”—including junta police, members of the military, fire department staff, and administrators—had come to the prison in the Sagaing Region capital and confiscated inmates’ books, clothing, and other personal items on September 8.
The following day, 14 political prisoners initiated a hunger strike, demanding the return of the inmates’ personal items, the removal of existing limitations on receiving care packages, and adequate medical care for Monywa Prison inmates.
The prison authorities ignored these demands, prompting more political prisoners including Wai Moe Naing to join the strike, according to two sources who spoke with Myanmar Now.
Around 50 political prisoners in total are now participating in the strike, the sources said.
Prominent Monywa-based protest leader Wai Moe Naing is serving a sentence of nearly 50 years on several charges–including sedition, unlawful assembly, abduction with intent to murder, murder, and treason–after participating in the city’s protests following the February 2021 coup. He was arrested after being hit by a vehicle driven by regime forces during a protest, and has been in detention since April 2021.
According to Shin Thant, a member of the Monywa People’s Strike Steering Committee, authorities have placed Wai Moe Naing in solitary confinement, while three other hunger strike participants have fainted from hypoglycaemia and anaemia.
“The authorities refused to provide medical care for the three prisoners that fainted,” Shin Thant said. “The prison still hasn’t agreed to the conditions set by the prisoners.”
The Political Prisoners Network (PPN), a prisoners’ rights monitoring group, reported on September 12 that prison authorities said the striking inmates had not received treatment because it was against the law to go on strike in prison.
Thaik Tun Oo, a spokesperson for the PPN, said that in addition to the prisoners participating in the hunger strike, others held at Monywa Prison were refusing the prison’s food and subsisting only on what they received from their families.
“I have been told that they will continue the strike until the authorities meet their conditions,” he added.
Political prisoners’ families have said that oppression and mistreatment in prisons throughout the country became even worse after Myo Swe, an official in the junta’s defence ministry, was appointed director-general of the home affairs ministry’s Prison Department.
The military is not allowing in-person visits at most prisons, citing the risk from the COVID-19 pandemic as justification. The military has also refused to grant access to prisons to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that the regime was still holding at least 19,458 political prisoners throughout Myanmar as of September 12 of this year.