Junta arbitrarily transferring political prisoners between detention centres, relatives say

The junta transferred a number of political prisoners to different sites starting on Tuesday for undetermined reasons, according to sources close to the detainees.

The individuals in question were being held in Insein Prison in Yangon, Obo Prison in Mandalay and Kyaikmayaw Prison in Mon State. 

“So many people were transferred. They said that the prisoners who took part in prison protests were transferred to prisons in other regions,” a source close to some of the Insein detainees said. 

He added that the number of people moved out of Insein was not known. 

Nineteen-year-old Zarchi Win and Khine Zaw, who are serving three- and seven-year sentences in the notorious jail, were transferred to Daik-U Prison in Bago Region, along with at least one other political prisoner, Nyan Lin Htet. Another individual, Wan Wan, was sent to Kyaikmayaw, the source said.

They had previously been held in isolation, separate from the general prison population.

Twenty-four-year-old student activist Aung Min Khaing, sentenced to three years for incitement, was transferred to Thayawady Prison, also in Bago, after initially being sent from Insein to Kyaikmayaw in April. 

“They didn’t even contact his family. They only found out about the transfer when they went to the prison to bring him care packages,” a friend of his said. 

More than 30 other political prisoners in the Mon State detention centre were also reportedly relocated to Thayawady.

A source with ties to those held in Kyaikmayaw Prison speculated that the detainees were being disciplined for singing a political song on the June birthday of detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, breaking prison rules. 

“That’s why they were transferred to the Thayawady prison, where the living conditions are worse, as a punishment,” the individual said. 

An undetermined number of political prisoners in Obo in Mandalay were also transferred to Myingyan Prison on Tuesday. Obo, where political prisoners have reported being routinely harassed by both other convicts and the staff, was the site of a June clash in which two prisoners of conscience were beaten to death and 13 injured when wardens reportedly attacked them with metal batons. 

A similar crackdown was carried out shortly after at a prison in Hpa-an, Karen State, triggered by an order for a transfer between wards: political detainees protested a decision that they be moved to a section populated by inmates convicted of criminal charges, resulting in two being shot by guards and 60 injured. 

The last known transfer of political prisoners between detention centres occurred in April, when more than 130 inmates—all charged with incitement—were relocated from Insein to Daik-U and Thayawady in a move that one activist described as “emotional torture.”

Prior to the February 2021 coup, prison authorities under previous administrations were known to transfer political prisoners to new sites without notifying their families. 

Student activist Aung Min Khaing’s family only learned of his move from Insein to Kyaikmayaw Prison one week after he had been relocated, according to his friend.

“It’s hard for political prisoners and their families as the authorities are transferring the prisoners to other prisons as they please. It’s also very hard for the family to inquire about their loved ones,” he said. 

Sources close to the detainees have reported that political prisoners experience frequent human rights violations while incarcerated. Families of those held in Insein have said that their detained relatives are made to do manual labour, pay bribes, and face regular threats of transfer or interrogation at police stations. 

According to data compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, some 11,393 people have been imprisoned by the junta since the coup in February last year. More than 1,200 had been convicted and sentenced at the time of reporting.

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