Concerns about the safety of Myanmar’s political prisoners are growing amid reports of summary executions being carried out under the guise of prison transfers.
In a statement released on Monday, the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners (AAPP) reported that two prisoners who were moved from Daik-U Prison in Bago Region on June 27 were killed while allegedly attempting to escape from custody.
It was the second such incident in recent weeks. Last Thursday, two other prisoners accused of assassinating a high-profile junta supporter were shot dead under similar circumstances after being taken from Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison.
According to the AAPP statement, the families of Khant Lin Naing and Pyae Phyo Hein were not informed of their deaths until late last week, more than a week after they were taken from Daik-U Prison.
The two men were among at least 37 inmates who have recently “gone missing” from the prison, the AAPP added. Most are believed to have been transferred to Insein Prison or Bago’s Thayarwaddy Prison, but at least seven have been killed, according to some reports.
In late May, it was reported that 15 political prisoners, including Pyae Phyo Hein, had been separated from other Daik-U Prison detainees for interrogation.
Thant Zin Win, one of the prisoners removed from his cell at the time, died a day later, according to a statement released by the People’s Defence Team of Bago Township on May 27.
A former political prisoner who has experienced being transported while in regime custody dismissed prison officials’ claims that Khant Lin Naing and Pyae Phyo Hein were killed by “warning shots” after they attempted to escape.
“During transfers, they usually shackle the legs of two prisoners together, so it would have been impossible for them to just run away,” said the former prisoner, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On July 2, another political prisoner also died under suspicious circumstances at Myingyan Prison in Mandalay Region, according to the AAPP.
The family of Sein Win, the prisoner, was told later the same day that he died of gastrointestinal bleeding, but fellow prisoners said that his death came soon after he had been taken away for interrogation, and that his body was covered with bruises.
Meanwhile, the whereabouts of 13 other inmates who were removed from Myingyan Prison on June 30 remain unknown, according to prison sources.
Kaung Zarni Hein and Kyaw Thura, the two prisoners who were shot to death last Thursday, also while allegedly attempting to escape, were accused of killing Lily Naing Kyaw, a pro-junta singer and propagandist, in late May.
On June 5, soon after their arrest, Kaung Zarni Hein’s mother and sister were both slain at their home in Yangon Region’s Htantapin Township in an apparent revenge killing.
A spokesperson for the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU)—of which Khant Lin Naing was the vice chair for Bago District—told Myanmar Now that he believed the recent deaths in custody were deliberate acts of murder.
“This is not a simple case of prisoners being taken out to be examined. What they’re doing is killing prisoners in places where their actions can be hidden,” said the ABFSU spokesperson.
On Tuesday, Australian MP Zoe Daniel released a statement calling on her country’s government to investigate the deaths of political prisoners in Myanmar, which she described as “horrific breaches of human rights highlighting the ongoing criminal behaviour of the rulers of one of our near neighbours.”
“I ask the Australian government to investigate what appears on the available evidence to be further war crimes, and to take further action to stifle the access of the junta to the money and other materials it is using to wage war on its people,” she said in her statement.
The National Unity Government’s representative in Australia, Dr. Tun Aung Shwe, also issued a statement on Tuesday regarding the recent killings. “Allowing the military in Myanmar to act with impunity, without facing any consequences for their actions, would be equivalent to granting them a licence to kill,” he said.According to the AAPP, there are currently 19,389 political prisoners being held in prisons across the country. The regime has denied all requests from the International Committee of the Red Cross for access to these prisoners.