Political prisoners barred from testifying at Mandalay’s Obo Prison court

Sources close to Obo Prison have claimed political prisoners are no longer permitted to give testimony or attend hearings at the facility’s junta-controlled court as of Tuesday. 

A Mandalay-based lawyer commented that the restriction was imposed in order to hinder investigations into events inside the prison, including a recent case that involved prison authorities reportedly beating female prisoners en masse.

“Their main goal is to cut off all connections to the inside of the prison. Prisoners were usually required to testify at the prison court when they received summons in the past, and were allowed to see their relatives and associates from the outside [while in court]. That won’t be possible anymore,” said the lawyer, who asked that his name be withheld.

He added that the suspension of court testimony had not been imposed by the court’s judge, but by the prison administration. According to the terms of the suspension, any prisoner required to testify in court must do so through an online conferencing system.

Sources close to the Mandalay courthouse also imparted that this suspension of court testimony would remain in effect indefinitely, which could cause major delays in court proceedings.

A letter secretly sent from inside the prison to Mandalay-based resistance forces last week described the oppressive conditions that the political prisoners faced inside, listing dozens victims by name, according to a local activist who received it.

The letter, written in blue ink on notebook paper, claimed prison authorities had beaten and tortured female political prisoners for two consecutive days in a crackdown following unrest in the women’s wards in the first week of February. 

According to the letter, authorities hit female prisoners with slingshots and wooden and metal bats, sometimes with tasers attached. 

Those in Mandalay’s activist circles speculated that at least three of the prisoners were critically injured and many more placed in solitary confinement or starved as punishment. 

The suspension of court testimony is consistent with other measures taken by prison authorities to restrict the flow of information to and from inmates. Authorities have consistently taken extreme measures to isolate Obo prisoners from associates on the outside, according to sources close to those detained in the facility.  

Among other limitations on inmates’ communications, visits have not been allowed at the Obo Prison since 2020, nominally for pandemic control purposes. 

Myanmar Now has not been able to verify claims about conditions in the prison independently.

As of mid-February, a total of 15,745 people have been detained by the military since the 2021 coup, of whom 4,194 have been sentenced, according to data from the monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). More than 4,000 of those arrested by the junta in Myanmar during this period have been women. 

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