Myanmar’s junta bans family visits, food deliveries to seven prisons after bomb blast

Myanmar’s military junta on Thursday banned family visits and delivery of food and other necessities to inmates in seven prisons across the country after an explosion at Yangon’s Insein Prison killed eight people the day before, relatives and lawyers of the prisoners said.

Many prisoners in Myanmar rely on food from families and friends to supplement their poor prison diet.

One woman said her sister, locked up in Insein Prison after the February 2021 coup for setting off explosives, suffers from a stomach disease they believe was caused by prison food. 

“She can’t eat it – horrible quality of rice and tasteless meals. That’s why we cook and send her plenty of food every 15 days,” said the woman, who asked that she remain anonymous. “Now that we can’t send any food, I can’t even imagine how difficult their lives inside the prison could be.”

In addition to Insein Prison, the junta indefinitely banned family visits and sending food to prisons in Pyay, Thayarwaddy, Obo (Mandalay), Taungoo, Thayet and Bago. RFA Burmese was unable to reach prison department officials for comment, and no official statement confirming the ban was released.

The ban is likely to take a psychological toll on inmates, said Tun Kyi, a former political prisoner.

“The prisoners who usually receive food and mental support from family and friends now feel both physically and mentally discouraged, and that can lead to bodily and mental illness as a consequence,” Tun Kyi said.

Trials at secret courts within Insein Prison were also suspended, a lawyer with knowledge of the prisons courts told RFA. 

“Family visits, sending parcels to the prisoners, the prison courts are all suspended,” he said. “When we ask how long this ban is going to be in effect, they say they can only answer when they get the order from the Ministry of Interior.”

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A parcel-reception location at the entrance of Insein Prison was damaged by an explosion in Yangon, Myanmar, Oct. 19, 2022. Credit: Military True News Information Team via AP

Shadowy Group

A little-known rebel group named Special Task Agency of Burma, or STA, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Efforts to reach the group were unsuccessful.

Anti-junta groups in Yangon said STA was not linked to them, and that they knew little about the group, which has operated independently in the past.

Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government and various anti-junta groups condemned the attacks and called for those responsible to be held to account. In fact, the NUG also issued a statement saying it would take legal action against any attack that leads to civilian casualties, regardless of who or which group performs it. 

After the blast, a member of the STA confirmed via social media that their group was responsible for Wednesday’s bombing, which killed eight and injured 18.

“Yes, we are the ones who did the attack,” the statement said. “We targeted the prison warden. We can confirm at least three prison employees, including the prison warden, were killed by the blast.”

RFA could not verify the STA’s claim of the death of the warden in the blast. The military junta’s press statement said five prison employees were killed.

One of the dead was 54-year-old Kyee Myint, the mother of a political prisoner named Lin Htet Naing, said a parliament lawyer with knowledge of the case.

The family visit ban is a great loss for the prisoners and those who planned the attack should not have targeted the places where civilians could be victimized, a regular volunteer visitor to Insein Prison told RFA. 

“It’s a loss of prisoners’ rights. The attackers should have thought of that in the first place. They said they targeted the prison chief,” he said, “but the civilian visitors have to suffer firsthand and all prisoners throughout the country have to suffer, too.” 

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Written in English by Malcolm Foster.

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