Several women incarcerated on politically motivated charges in Mandalay’s Obo Prison have been injured in recent physical assaults by guards, according to sources in contact with the inmates.
A Mandalay-based youth activist shared with Myanmar Now parts of a handwritten eyewitness account from inside the prison detailing the beatings and when they occurred. Titled “Oppressed Prisoners,” it was delivered to him through covert channels, and described a crackdown on detainees in two women’s wards that was perpetrated on February 3 and 4.
“[The letter says] that the male prison authorities charged into the ward and beat over 70 female political prisoners. They were also allegedly hit with slingshots,” he explained.
The activist said that the document also included a list of the prisoners who had been beaten and injured.
Among those subjected to the assaults was 20-year-old San Lin May, who was arrested in December 2021 after being accused of funding an urban guerrilla force. On February 3, she was convicted in a junta court of violating Section 50 of the Counterterrorism Law and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The day after her sentencing, a source close to San Lin May’s family said that guards attacked inmates in her ward following a dispute between detainees and the prison authorities. They were reportedly armed with wooden and iron batons to which tasers had been attached.
During the episode of violence, her ear was at least partially cut off.
“They were all beaten indiscriminately… San Lin May was simply caught in the crossfire of the conflict,” the source said, adding that her wound had required five stitches. “We heard that the injury was serious, and we’re all deathly worried because we have not been able to make direct contact with [the prisoners].”
Another woman identified as having been beaten that day was Po Pyae Thu, a restaurant owner known for her philanthropy work and serving a lengthy sentence after being convicted by the military council of multiple politically motivated charges.
“It worried us a lot to see her name on the list,” a friend of Po Pyae Thu said. “It’s even worse because we have not heard any updates on her condition, nor have we had direct contact with her.”
A woman released from Obo Prison three months ago told Myanmar Now that the facility’s authorities treated political prisoners with “extreme hostility, out of spite” and that other criminal convicts were also encouraged to take part in the abuse.
“The worst thing I saw in prison was that [the guards] appointed several prisoners as administrators to ‘govern’ other prisoners: criminals that were sent to prison for dealing drugs or gambling were ruling over and torturing political prisoners,” she said. “On my first day in prison, I was beaten with a belt by another prisoner for absolutely no reason at all.”
A Mandalay lawyer assisting political prisoners in Obo told Myanmar Now in October last year that the inmates were “losing their rights every day,” noting that after being subjected to violence, they were typically denied medical care.
The All Burma Federation of Student Unions released a statement last August which also revealed that Obo’s political prisoners were being starved, beaten, and even electrocuted.
In June, at least two inmates of the prison were beaten to death with metal batons during a crackdown that also left at least 13 others injured, according to two lawyers.
Similar assaults were reported over the following months by released prisoners, including an attack on August 8—the anniversary of the start of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement—that resulted in at least one death.
Myanmar Now is unable to independently verify the incidents. The military has used health restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic to deny visits to political prisoners, making it difficult to gather further information on the ongoing rights violations.
Nearly 14,000 people were still in junta prisons at the time of reporting, more than 3,000 of whom were women, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.