Fourteen sketches smuggled out of Myanmar’s Insein Prison and interviews with eight former prisoners offer a rare glimpse inside the country’s most notorious jail, where thousands of political prisoners have been sent since last year’s military coup and communication with the outside world is sharply limited.
The ink sketches show daily life for groups of male prisoners in their dormitories, queuing for water from a trough to wash, talking or lying on the floor in the tropical heat.
Beyond those depictions, the eight recently released inmates told Reuters the colonial-era facility in Yangon is infested with rats and widespread illness goes untreated. Also, bribery is common and prisoners pay for sleeping space on the floor.
“We’re no longer humans behind bars,” said Nyi Nyi Htwe, 24, who smuggled the sketches out of the prison when he was released in October, after spending several months for a defamation conviction, on charges he denies, in connection with joining protests against the coup.
Reuters could not independently verify the accounts provided by the former inmates.
The artist drew the prison sketches between April and July of last year. Later released, he declined to be interviewed or identified, telling Nyi Nyi Htwe he feared rearrest.
Nyi Nyi Htwe, who met the artist in prison, said the man sketched prisoners if asked and drew prison scenes wherever he went, saying he felt more relaxed while drawing. He gave Nyi Nyi Htwe, who has joined an armed rebel group since being released, the sketches as a birthday present.