A Myanmar junta court handed down sentences of three to six months to seven prison employees, including a warden, after a jailbreak in May in which 10 prisoners overpowered guards, seized their guns and escaped, said three sources with knowledge of the situation.
Ten inmates, including nine fighters with the anti-junta People’s Defense Force, escaped from Taungoo Prison in central Myanmar’s Bago region on May 18 as they were being taken from their cells to a small prison courtroom for their trials. Among them was a woman and two inmates sentenced to death.
The warden, Kyi Oo, officially the deputy director of the town’s prison department, was on Monday given three months in jail, while Than Tun and Tun Tun Oo, the two prison chiefs, Lt. Than Zin Win, Lt. Oo Toe, and staffers Khant Si Thu and Pho Kauk received sentences of six months each, said the sources close to Taungoo Prison.
In addition to being sentenced to jail, they were expected to be fired, said the sources, who declined to be named so they could speak freely.
The move comes as the military, which overthrew the democratically elected civilian government in a February 2021 coup d’etat, cracks down on prison staff to ensure they do not help or let political prisoners escape.
Nyo Tun, a former political prisoner who was recently released, said the ruling military junta is taking more stringent action against correctional employees to suppress lower-ranking officials.
“In the past, I have only seen actions taken against the prison authorities, such as removing them from duty or demoting them in positions,” he told Radio Free Asia. “It’s not like that now [because] they are even being imprisoned.”
“By doing so, the junta hopes that the prison authorities and staff in other prisons will be pressured to continue to oppress our political prisoners with stricter rules and stricter methods,” he said.
The prison staffers’ trial was held at the Taungoo township courthouse, said one source, though he did not know the specific charges for each. Afterwards, they were taken back to the prison.
A person close to the family members of political prisoners serving time in Taungoo Prison also told RFA about the staffers’ sentences.
“The warden was accused of having connections to the PDF, and they said they had a lot of proof,” the person said.
“They were also going to be removed from their official positions along with their prison terms,” the source added.
Since the escape, security at the prison has been tightened, with the installation of new closed-circuit video cameras, watchtowers and outdoor bunkers, the source said, as well as an increase in military forces there.
RFA could not reach Naing Win, deputy director general and spokesman of the Prisons Department, for comment.
Similar action has been taken against prison staff elsewhere in the country.
At Daik-U Prison, also in Bago region, eight prison employees, including Yan Naing Tun, the deputy director, were arrested and have been under investigation since late June on charges of helping political inmates communicate with PDFs, sources close to the detention center said.
On July 4, Sgt. Nay Myo Thein and a deputy sergeant who worked at Myingyan Prison in central Myanmar’s Mandalay region were fired and each sentenced to six months in jail for allegedly helping inmates, according to people close to the detention facility.
Following the Taungoo jailbreak, authorities interrogated and beat some political prisoners in jails in Myingyan, Daik-U and Tharyarwaddy, killing some and putting others in life-threatening situations, prisoner relatives and sources close to the prisons told RFA in an earlier report.
More than 60 such inmates were sentenced to three additional years in prison each on July 6 for their alleged involvement in a riot that took place in Pathein Prison in Ayeyarwady region.
In May and June, 15 inmates died of torture during interrogation or for other reasons, including shootings for trying to escape during jail transfer, according to an RFA tally.
The military junta has detained more than 19,500 people, of whom roughly 6,850 have served prison terms, since the February 2021 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights group based in Thailand.
Translated by Myo Min Aung for RFA Burmese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.