Prisoners stage anti-dictatorship protest inside Insein Prison

A group of detainees within the notorious Insein Prison in Yangon reportedly staged a protest by chanting anti-dictatorship slogans on Friday morning.

A resident who lives in close proximity to the prison told Myanmar Now he heard the chant for around one hour starting at 7am. 

He said the protesters chanted “The fall of military dictatorship, our cause! Our cause! Boycott! Boycott! The revolution must succeed. Return the power to the public.” 

The same slogans have been widely chanted by anti-coup protesters at rallies across the country since the February 1 coup.

After the incident, the resident said he saw military trucks heading towards the prison.

Another Insein Township resident who lives near the main entrance of the prison told Myanmar Now that at around 9:30am he was not able to hear the chanting but had witnessed military trucks parked near the area. 

A Facebook user posted two short video clips on Friday morning capturing the chants coming from inside the prison. The location from which the netizen filmed the video was unclear.

According to a lawyer close to a number of Insein detainees, employees at the prison were among those who participated in the protest. Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify the claim.

Neither the spokespersons from the corrections department nor Insein Prison officials responded to calls from Myanmar Now seeking comment on the incident.

On Wednesday, the junta announced that prisoners who had been charged under 11 criminal offences before February 1 would soon be released in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country’s prisons. All criminal cases against those facing gambling, drug-related, or prostitution charges would be dropped, according to the announcement.

The move has been widely criticised by pro-democracy activists since those scheduled for release do not include political prisoners who are also at risk of getting infected with Covid-19.

A few detainees were reportedly released on Thursday afternoon in Yangon but Myanmar Now was unable to confirm the exact number. 

Nyan Win, top official within the National League for Democracy party, died at the Yangon General Hospital on Tuesday morning after contracting Covid-19 in Insein Prison, where he was detained. 

The junta claimed in a recent statement that only six inmates in Insein, the country’s largest detention centre, have been infected with Covid-19 since the start of the third wave of the pandemic in early July. A total of 375 cases have been detected in the country’s prison system nationwide, they said. 

Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said that he had heard from prisoners in Insein that one of the demands of their Friday protest was access to healthcare.

“I’ve heard that there are people who are getting sick inside the prison but they are not getting treatment,” Bo Kyi said. 

The AAPP said on Friday afternoon in a statement that the protest began in a detention facility for women inmates who were involved in pro-democracy rallies and the Civil Disobedience Movement.

Citing prison staff they had spoken with, the AAPP said that junta forces stormed into the prison compound and confiscated weapons from all prison employees.

“The protest reportedly began because prisoners have not been provided with medical care, and neither have prison staff been given protection from COVID-19,” the AAPP’s statement said.

The group remains concerned that protests in the prison will be “viciously suppressed” and “a massacre and rampant use of torture” will be the prison authorities’ response to the incident. 

“Like-minded [foreign] governments must apply pressure on junta officials to protect the lives of these pro-democracy supporters and secure their release from arbitrary detention,” the AAPP said.

A former political prisoner himself, Bo Kyi said he is concerned about the protesters and the prison employees who reportedly joined the demonstration. 

“I am worried about there being a violent crackdown against them. I am hoping for a peaceful handling of the incident,” he said.

Other former political prisoners also raised concerns that those who protested on Friday could be targeted by prison authorities for further restrictions and punishment, such as solitary confinement.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Friday afternoon to reflect further details of the protest included in the AAPP’s statement.

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