A court held at Ayeyarwady Region’s Pathein Prison added several years to inmates’ sentences for alleged involvement in protests last January, according to the monitoring group Political Prisoners Network (PPN) of Myanmar.
After bringing charges of “harming civil servants”, “causing grievous injuries” and “destruction of public property” against 63 prisoners, the regime-controlled prison court lengthened each of their sentences by three to six years in August and September, according to PPN spokesperson Thaik Tun Oo.
The court added three more years to the prison terms of 47 of the inmates, Thaik Tun Oo said, and the 16 who received an additional six years were also confined away from the rest in a separate prison ward.
Prison authorities usually respond with brutal crackdowns when prisoners strike or demand respect for their rights, Thaik Tun Oo said, accusing them of violating the rules and pressing charges after the fact to justify their violent methods of suppression.
Eight political prisoners initiated the strike at Pathein Prison on January 5 of this year to protest a rumoured death sentence for a teacher who had joined the civil disobedience movement (CDM). The inmates said they had overheard prison authorities discussing the construction of a new gallows for the CDM participant’s execution.
Authorities removed the eight prisoners from their cells and beat them brutally before sending most of them back. However, one of the eight striking inmates—Win Min Htet, also known as Mae Gyi—never returned to his cell.
Tensions rose in the prison as Win Min Htet’s fellow political prisoners began to ask where he was, leading to an outbreak of violence when a member of the prison staff reportedly started beating another political prisoner for a minor offence.
The prison authorities used live ammunition to suppress the unrest. One prisoner named Wai Yan Phyo, 33, was killed and 60 other political prisoners sustained injuries.
Win Min Htet’s whereabouts are still unknown.
According to the prisoners’ rights advocacy organisation Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), the military regime that seized power in 2021 had already arrested more than 25,000 political prisoners as of September 25, 2023, of whom 19,000 remain in detention. The true number may be higher, as the estimates are based only on the data available, AAPP said.