Political prisoners die after being denied emergency medical interventions in Mandalay

Inmates convicted by the junta of politically motivated charges in Mandalay’s Obo and Meiktila prisons are being refused access to healthcare—often with fatal consequences—according to sources close to and inside the facilities.

At least one political prisoner at each site died in mid-September after being denied medical treatment, Myanmar Now has learned. 

Zaw La Pyae, a young railroad worker who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement and was sentenced to seven years in prison on terrorism charges in July, died in Meiktila Prison on September 18 after experiencing shortness of breath and fatigue for three days.

A source close to him said that his symptoms did not improve after he received an unidentified injection and medication from the prison clinic on September 17. 

“It seemed like he became worse after returning from the clinic. He couldn’t even eat anymore,” the source said. 

Zaw La Pyae asked again to be examined by a doctor at 7am on September 18, but was allegedly told by clinic staff that his problems were “in his head,” according to the source. 

Two hours later, he collapsed, with other political prisoners pleading with staff to have him admitted to an outside hospital, to which the clinic doctor finally agreed, but he was not transported to the facility until hours later. 

He died at 11:20am, a half hour after arriving at the hospital. Prison authorities ruled Zaw La Pyae’s death as heart valve failure. 

Myanmar Now has been unable to contact his family.

Similarly, in Obo Prison, a handwritten letter composed anonymously by an inmate and smuggled out of the facility late last month detailed how a political prisoner died on the evening of September 17 also after being refused a medical intervention for an undisclosed condition. 

The document, which has been seen by Myanmar Now, did not identify the deceased by name but as having been held in Cell 6 of the third ward. It also described various forms of torture to which political prisoners are subjected, including solitary confinement. 

A Mandalay-based lawyer could not confirm the death of the individual in question but said that there are “several” cases in which prisoners have died after being denied medical interventions, or in which the prison authorities have cremated the bodies of deceased inmates without notifying their families.

He explained that grave rights abuses continue to occur in Obo.

“One of my clients was put in a solitary cell and was starved. He couldn’t even come to court for a while. He could only attend his court hearings after he was released from solitary,” the lawyer told Myanmar Now. “When I saw him again, he had lost so much weight. His health didn’t seem very good, either.”

“The prisoners are losing their rights every day,” he added. 

The All Burma Federation of Student Unions released a statement in August which also revealed that Obo’s political prisoners were being starved, beaten, and even electrocuted.

Another lawyer said that authorities in Obo killed two political prisoners and injured 13 others during a series of beatings with metal batons in the men’s wing in early June. 

Myanmar Now is unable to independently verify the incidents. The military has used health restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic to deny visits to political prisoners, making it difficult to gather further information on the ongoing rights violations. 

Activists whose colleagues are incarcerated told Myanmar Now in September that political prisoners transferred from Obo to another Mandalay prison—Myingyan—have been subjected to physical abuse, including brutal beatings by prison personnel, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness. 

At least 15,000 people arrested since the February 2021 coup are still being detained nationwide, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. More than 2,300 people have been killed by the regime during that same period. 

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