Prison authorities shot and killed seven people and injured 12 more inside Kalay Prison in western Sagaing Region on Tuesday evening in what the junta has said was a hostage crisis and escape attempt instigated by the inmates.
Locals and an area resistance force have rejected the military’s claim and condemned the shootings.
The military council reported that some 50 inmates took three staff hostage and tried to break out of the prison.
The junta identified the casualties as Myo Min Tun, Win Ko Naing, Maung Nyi, Chan Min Ko, Tuu Khine, Nyunt Win Aung and Salai Shalom Siang Thang Lian—who also went by the name Van Dam.
While details about the other victims could not be verified at the time of reporting, Salai Shalom Siang Thang Lian was a member of the anti-junta Chin National Defence Force (CNDF) and was arrested last June. He was charged with illegal possession of a weapon as well as incitement charges under Section 505a of the Penal Code.
A CNDF spokesperson described him as a “very dependable young man” who attentioned Chin National League for Democracy rallies ahead of the 2020 general election, and an active participant in anti-dictatorship protests following last year’s military coup.
“He dedicated his whole life to the well-being of Chin State. He sacrificed a lot for the country,” the spokesperson said.
The representative of the ethnic Chin resistance force dismissed allegations of a prison escape attempt as “impossible.”
“I think they incited some sort of a riot inside the prison. It’s really impossible that they tried to escape,” the CNDF spokesperson said.
Photographs of the victims’ bodies indicate that many of the victims were shot in the head.
“This is an unspeakably vile action. They weren’t even at war. Shooting unarmed inmates in the head is just inhuman,” the CNDF representative said, adding that his organisation “strongly condemned” the murders.
Multiple Kalay residents who spoke to Myanmar Now said that the actual number of those injured could be higher than the 12 reported by the military. They maintained that the prison has been the site of severe human rights violations, according to testimony given by detainees released in periodic amnesties.
The locals said it is believed that the shootings began after an argument broke out between prisoners and wardens regarding the ongoing abuse.
More than 400 people have been arrested from protests in Kalay over the last year, according to the CNDF, but it is not known how many are being held in the township’s prison, or the total number of inmates detained within its walls.
Another uprising occurred in Insein Prison Yangon in December of last year, with several participants subjected to brutal beatings, isolation, and the denial of treatment for injuries inflicted by prison authorities.