Prison authorities accused 12 political prisoners of using hidden cellular phones and subjected them to “torture” for several days this week in Myingyan, according to an anti-regime community group that monitors prison conditions.
Ten detainees being held at Myingyan Prison in central Myanmar’s Mandalay Region were separated from the other inmates for interrogation on Sunday and Monday, and two more were removed on Tuesday, according to Shin Thant, a spokesperson for the Monywa People’s Strike Committee.
Citing sources within the prison, Shin Thant said 12 detainees were being held and interrogated in the prison warden’s office on suspicion of breaking the prison’s rules against using mobile phones. Further details regarding their situation remain unconfirmed at the time of reporting.
“I want to stress that this is not a sound reason but simply a pretext to torture political prisoners,” Shin Thant told Myanmar Now, referring to the accusation that the prisoners were using phones.
The prisoners, all taken from the prison’s Ward 2 on Sunday, were identified as Kyaw Min Naing, Thet Maung Maung, Kyaw Zin Oo, Kyaw Myo Tint, Oakkar, and Zaw Zaw Aung, also known as Ko Sai. The authorities took away three more prisoners–Kyaw Tint Oo, Aung Myo Thant and Soe Yarzar–the following day.
The authorities had not returned any of these prisoners to their cells by Monday afternoon, prompting their fellow inmates to start a hunger strike.
The same day the strike began, prison authorities took two more inmates, Ye Min Htwe and Kyaw Soe Tint, out of their cells for interrogation and subsequently refused to release any information about them.
He added that the striking prisoners were concerned for their fellow inmates’ lives.
According to the Monywa People’s Strike Committee, rumours have circulated among the Myingyan prisoners that Oakkar died from injuries sustained during his interrogation after being taken away on Sunday. However, the committee’s spokesperson stressed that reliable information has been difficult to access, and that sources inside the prison have not personally seen his dead body.
Myingyan Prison has been under lockdown since Monday, according to the Shin Thant, with inmates confined to their cells and soldiers and police officers stationed along the fences.
One of the political prisoners removed for interrogation, Kyaw Myo Tint, was arrested after the coup in 2021 and charged with terrorism, then transferred to Myingyan Prison from Mandalay’s Obo Prison, according to one of his personal friends.
“After his arrest, the military used his phone and Facebook contacts to impersonate him and find more people to arrest. They’ve forced him to give up information during previous interrogations. We still don’t know why they took him out again,” the friend said.
A woman from Mandalay said her husband, a retired journalist, was serving a five-year sentence for terrorism and incitement at Myingyan Prison. She told Myanmar Now that she feared for his safety after hearing about the current situation there.
“I heard that they accused the prisoners of hiding mobile phones and started searching them. I am extremely worried about my husband, as we can’t contact him and all the news we hear is bad these days,” she said.
According to the Monywa People’s Strike Committee, political prisoners from Mandalay, Myingyan, and Taungtha, Mandalay Region, are currently being held at Myingyan Prison.
Among them is Myint Naing, the ousted chief minister of Sagaing Region, who is serving a 25-year sentence on corruption charges. Despite requesting a transfer from the prison in Monywa
to his hometown of Shwebo in Sagaing Region, he was transferred even farther away from Shwebo to Myingyan last year.
Myanmar Now previously reported how several political prisoners transferred to Myingyan from Obo and Monywa prisons in July 2022 were singled out for abuse, including brutal beatings, by prison authorities.
A Myingyan Prison inmate was beaten to death by prison authorities last year, and a political prisoner suspected of funding anti-junta resistance forces died the year before under unclear circumstances.
According to a statement issued on Thursday by the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the military has arrested a total of 22,683 people, including democracy activists, since the February 2021 coup. Of those, 18,364 are still under detention, including 6,076 who are serving sentences in prisons throughout the country.