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Myanmar prison on lockdown after deadly response to inmate protest

A prison in Myanmar’s Sagaing region is under lockdown Tuesday after authorities opened fire on an inmate protest over the weekend, killing one prisoner and injuring as many as nine others, according to sources.

A source close to the prison on the outskirts of Sagaing’s Monywa city who spoke on condition of anonymity told RFA’s Myanmar Service that junta troops have assumed control of security at the site and that all trials and family visits have been suspended indefinitely.

“The army is still guarding the prison with military vehicles,” the source said. “Lawyers who usually attend special court proceedings [on site] are still not allowed inside. As families cannot enter the prison [for inmate visits], all information has been cut off.”

Residents told RFA on Monday that gunfire was heard emanating from inside Monywa Prison the previous night and that authorities had opened fire on a group of inmates who were chanting anti-junta slogans in a rare display of opposition to military rule, killing one and injuring nine others.

One source with ties to inmates involved in the incident said they had been protesting harsh conditions at the prison, including the use of torture during interrogations.

“During the daily inspection, as inmates were out of their cells, someone started shouting, ‘Do we, the people, unite?’ Then, the others responded, saying, ‘Yes, we do!’ A big crowd gathered, and the protest began,” said the source, who also declined to be named.

The protest started at around 5 p.m. A half an hour later, two military trucks entered the compound, and the shooting began.

“According to our sources inside, we can confirm one person was shot dead and five were injured,” the source said.

“The one who died was shot in the chest. One of the injured is in serious condition after losing a lot of blood from his thigh. But as far as we know, they have not been taken for medical treatment and were forced to help each other in the prison.”

A member of the Monywa People’s Strike Steering Committee, whose leader Wai Moe Naing is among several political prisoners being held at the prison, said emergency vehicles were diverted from patrols of the city prior to the shooting, including military trucks and ambulances.

Other sources said that as many as nine inmates had been injured in the crackdown.

RFA was unable to independently verify the number of casualties. Attempts to contact Khin Shwe, the junta’s deputy director of the Department of Prisons, went unanswered Tuesday.

Bombing campaign

Following the unrest, several prodemocracy People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary groups issued a statement about the shooting and in retaliation carried out a joint bombing campaign against five junta targets in the city, according to Boh Dattha of the Monywa PDF.

“We asked residents not to leave their houses beginning around 5:30 p.m.,” he said. “In response to what happened in Monywa Prison, we, and three allied groups, carried out bombings against the military regime.”

The other groups involved in the bombings were Monywa Generation Tiger, Monywa Special Date Date Kyei, and “a third new group,” Boh Dattha said. He provided no further details about the targets of the bombings or whether they resulted in any casualties.

A resident of the city confirmed to RFA that multiple explosions were heard in Monywa after the shooting on Sunday night.

“We heard gunshots. Later, there were a lot of explosions in the city — in no less than 10 places,” the resident said.

The junta has yet to issue a statement about the shooting incident or the explosions in Monywa, but sources described an increased presence of police and military troops since the weekend and said authorities have been conducting checks throughout the city.

Since seizing power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup, junta troops have killed at least 1,730 civilians and detained more than 10,000 political prisoners, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Last month, authorities in Sagaing’s Kalay township killed seven inmates and injured a dozen others after using live ammunition to quell what junta officials described as a prison “riot.” Sources told RFA the deaths were likely the result of a violent crackdown on a protest over ill-treatment at the facility. 

According to the military, guards at the prison tried to disable the inmates by aiming below their waists. But residents noted that photos published by the junta on its online “Viber Group” platform to accompany its statement on the incident showed that at least some of those killed had been shot in the head and chest.

Authorities have responded to earlier protests over ill-treatment by political prisoners in Yangon’s Insein Prison and Mandalay’s Obo Prison by beating protesters, denying them medical treatment, and putting them in solitary confinement.  

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.