Family visits to be allowed after three-year ban in Myanmar prisons

Approval to visit relatives in prison will still be conditional on showing identification documents and clearance from the junta police, among other requirements

The Myanmar junta will permit family members to visit prisoners across the country again starting on Tuesday, but will keep certain restrictions in place, according to political prisoners’ relatives and a report by a pro-army outlet.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, in-person family visits with prisoners across the country were suspended. The ban remains in place at the time of reporting, widely seen as a measure imposed by the military to cut off communications between Myanmar’s thousands of political prisoners and the outside world. Those detained on politically motivated charges since the 2021 coup have been able to communicate with relatives only through the lawyers representing them.

According to a source in Mandalay, an announcement was posted recently in front of the city’s Obo Prison listing 11 criteria for visitors to get the prison authorities’ approval to meet with their incarcerated relatives. Among the requirements are documents identifying each visitor, proof of residency, clearances from junta-controlled police stations and certificates of Covid-19 vaccination. The source added that families of the inmates had received the same information. 

A report from the pro-army Myanmar National Post said that the military’s spokespersons confirmed that visits will resume on Tuesday.

A former political prisoner said that the identification, residency and police clearance documents will still be a matter of concern considering present political and security conditions in the country.

“There could be security concerns to get those recommendation letters. Some individuals who lost their identification cards or house registrations will face difficulties,” said the former prisoner. 

Prisoners were previously allowed to receive visits from their families twice a month, and it is believed that junta authorities will allow visits at the same frequency when the practice resumes.

A relative of a political prisoner held in Mandalay Region’s Myingyan Prison worried that detainees who were imprisoned with political charges would not be allowed family visits given the level of oppression at the prisons. 

The relative also said that there are also risks for relatives of political prisoners in filing or registering personal information with junta authorities.

“We don’t know whether there could be traps. We won’t feel secure after providing our personal details to them,” the source said. 

In October of last year, the junta prohibited the delivery of packages and other mail to inmates in its prisons nationwide after eight people were killed in explosions and a shooting occurred at Yangon’s Insein Prison. Although the junta later lifted the general ban, it imposed many new restrictions on the practice and onerous security searches. 

Myanmar has more than 90 prisons and jails nationwide, and continues to detain more than 19,600 people on politically motivated charges, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The reported frequency and severity of human rights abuses in Myanmar’s prisons is notorious. The alleged abuses include cruel mistreatment of inmates by the prison personnel, denial of medical care, overcrowding and insufficient and unclean food and water provisions. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has requested permission from the Myanmar military regime several times to observe conditions at the prisons, but the junta consistently rejects the organisation’s requests.

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