At least one inmate at Pathein Prison in Ayeyarwady Region was killed in a recent attack by guards on political detainees at the facility, with military authorities refusing to release his body to his family, according to sources familiar with the incident.
Wai Yan Phyo, a 33-year-old resident of the resort town of Chaungtha arrested last June and charged with terrorism, was reportedly killed in an outbreak of violence on January 6. Beatings and the use of rubber bullets by prison staff sent some 10 injured prisoners to Pathein General Hospital for treatment, among whom were five people who were wounded critically.
After learning of his death, Wai Yan Phyo’s relatives waited in front of both Pathein Prison and the hospital to claim his body, but their requests that he be returned to them were denied, a source said.
They were, however, allowed to view his body before he was cremated at the city’s cemetery on Saturday, the individual told Myanmar Now.
The fatal assault occurred the day after an inmate called Mae Gyi—also known as Win Min Htet—initiated an eight-person protest after overhearing prison staff discussing the construction of gallows in order to execute Kaung Khant Kyaw, a striking Pathein teacher handed a death sentence on December 30.
The eight individuals involved in the demonstration were removed from their cells on the evening of January 5 and beaten by prison authorities, who told other detainees that the targeted individuals were being punished for having hidden a mobile phone.
“Seven of them returned to their respective cells the following morning, but Mae Gyi was nowhere to be found, heightening tension between the prisoners and the prison authorities,” the source familiar with the incident said.
The next day, with hostilities high, a member of the prison staff reportedly hit a political prisoner with a baton while he was taking out the trash, prompting others who witnessed the assault to rush to his defence.
“The political prisoners started to rise up and the authorities started arming themselves with batons, which ultimately resulted in a clash,” the source explained, adding that some 60 inmates were reportedly involved.
A relative of one of the detainees told Myanmar Now that police officers arrived at the site to provide reinforcement for the guards, and started shooting rubber bullets at the prisoners.
“Nobody knows if anyone was actually shot [with live ammunition], but we only heard about Wai Yan Phyo’s death that evening. Mae Gyi is still missing,” the relative said.
Mae Gyi was arrested in July 2021 and is charged with violating Section 52a of the Counterterrorism Law, which involves alleged association with members of a “terrorist” group.
Following the attack, the junta released a report describing how on the morning of January 6, “rioting prisoners” from two wards in Pathein destroyed CCTV cameras and insulted and threatened the facility’s staff while attempting an assault with sticks and bricks.
The military council stated that a prisoner was killed in the fight and two police officers, nine prison staff and 63 inmates were injured.
“We can see that the military’s statements are full of lies,” the source with prison ties told Myanmar Now, adding that junta photos of damage to the site depicted the brutality employed by prison staff during the crackdown. “The buildings and rooms were only destroyed because they used force in dispersing the crowd, not because the prisoners deliberately destroyed them.”
Myanmar Now attempted to contact the Pathein Prison authorities for comment regarding the incident but all calls went unanswered.