Mawlamyine prison under investigation for drugs and corruption

Mawlamyine prison is under investigation after a recently pardoned prisoner told a local news station drugs and corruption are rampant in the facility.

San Win, AKA Nagar Gyi, was one of 25,000 prisoners granted a presidential amnesty in an annual rite on April 17, the first day of the Myanmar new year. According to court records, he’d been sentenced to 36 years in 2009 for theft by the Mahar Aung Myay court.

He leveled the accusations during an interview with a local news outlet on the day of his release, just before returning home to Pyi Lone Chan Thar, a suburb of Mandalay.

Black Rose, a Mawlamyine-based Facebook page that describes itself as a news agency, posted the interview to its Facebook page later that day.

Prison authorities facilitated sales of 5,000-kyat ($3.56) methamphetamine pills to inmates, he said.

Additionally, prisoners still awaiting trial were forced to work unless they paid officers 200,000 kyat, and those convicted and sentenced to hard labour could avoid being transferred to labour camps by paying 200,000 to 300,000 kyat, San Win said.

He said the payments were channeled to Naing Lin, a one-star ranking officer, and deputy officer-in-charge Zaw Oo.

He also accused prison staff of taking 10% of the money families sent to prisoners and pocketing any money seized during cell inspections.

Officials also charged prisoners monthly fees for basic prison services, including 7,000 kyat for garbage disposal, 2,000 kyat for toilet use and 5,000 kyat for showers, he said.

San Win has also served time in Myinchan, Insein, Myaungmya and Hinthada prison, and drugs were easily accessible in all of them, he said.

Prisons department deputy director Ye Yint Naing told Myanmar Now a team of officers from his department, the special investigations bureau and the Myanmar Police Force are investigating the claims regarding the Mawlamyine prison.

“We can’t be acting on his word alone,” Ye Nin Naing said, adding that San Win had been transferred multiple times for insubordination. “The legitimacy of these claims also depends on San Win’s credibility.”

He said any prison staff found to have helped smuggle drugs to prisoners will be arrested and referred to police.

Mawlamyine prison in early May (Photo : Sandar Nyan / Myanmar Now)

In the past inmates have smuggled drugs into prisons in body cavities, but when guards used to conduct inspections for this they were accused of violating prisoners’ rights, he said.

Dr Nang Pann Ei Kham of the Drug Policy Advocacy Group (DPAG) said she’s heard complaints of prisoners having easy access to drugs before.

The government can’t just lock prisoners up, it has to help rehabilitate users as well, she said.

“Prisoners don’t receive proper treatment once they’re locked up. Withdrawal is intense. Their bodies are still craving these substances, and when that happens they’ll find a way to get their hands on drugs one way or another,” she told Myanmar Now.

According to a 2018 report from the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, half of the prisoners in 24 of Myanmar’s 46 prisons were there on drug charges. In some prisons the rate was as high as 80%.

Myanmar’s prisons and labour camps have an official capacity of about 66,000, though they’ve recently housed as many as 90,000. Human rights groups have decried overcrowding in the system.

After this year’s annual new year amnesty that population was brought down to about 70,000, according to Ye Yint Naing.

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