Political Prisoners: Out of Sight But Not Out of Mind

October 31st, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
Featured image

“The ban on parcels is an act of oppression and a serious rights violation against prisoners who have already been cut off from the outside world and are not allowed visits from their families.”

On the ground in Myanmar in October, the Myanmar military continued its merciless attacks on civilians, including airstrikes on civilians in Myanmar’s Dry Zone and Karen and Kachin States, beheading a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) teacher and the slaying of a pregnant woman in Magwe Region. Additionally, chaotic scenes at Yangon’s Insein Prison, where a parcel bomb attack killed eight people triggered the junta to shut off visitation rights and deliveries to the prison, exacerbating already dire prison conditions.

The junta’s proclivity for killing civilians knows no bounds, as they relentlessly target civilians using jet fighters and drones, particularly in Myanmar’s Dry Zone. On Wednesday 19 October, two fighter jets carried out indiscriminate airstrikes on civilians in villages bordering Yinmabin and Pale Townships, followed by ground attacks and raids carried out by troops dropped out of helicopters into Pyar Oh and Yin Paung Taing Villages. During the raid, junta troops brutally killed a 7 month pregnant woman, Soe Soe (33), and her mother-in-law Nyein Nyunt (in her sixties), displacing thousands of people from six surrounding villages. In another incident last week, junta troops abducted three men in Kyar Pyit Kan Village, Pauk Township, Magwe Region, including a CDM teacher, Saw Moe Tun, who they decapitated and cut off three of his fingers in a gruesome attack, hanging his head at the entrance of a school. The two other men were also murdered, but have yet to be identified. These incidents are a continuation of the military junta’s grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, a catalogue of which has formed over decades and decades of unchecked violence against civilians.

The situation inside Myanmar’s prisons is equally dire, with those who form part of the anti-junta resistance movement experience untold suffering. Those arbitrarily detained continue to be deprived of liberty and legal rights, as well as the most basic human rights, including the right to food, adequate medical care, and sanitary conditions. On 19 October, two parcel bombs exploded at Insein Prison, followed by prison guards or soldiers firing shots surrounding the explosion and people to scatter. As a result of the explosion and the shooting, eight people were killed, including well-known democracy activist Ko James’ mother and a ten year old girl. The details around the incident are still unclear, including who sent the parcels and who fired the shots. This incident has triggered the junta to clamp down on deliveries of food and visitation rights for prisoner’s family and friends – many desperately rely on food deliveries from family and friends, as the prison food is little and contains no nourishment. Mandalay’s Obo Prison banned parcels, according to a source at the Junta’s Corrections Department. A former political prisoner told the Irrawaddy that “The ban on parcels is an act of oppression and a serious rights violation against prisoners who have already been cut off from the outside world and are not allowed visits from their families.”

Meanwhile, the junta’s Corrections Department has transferred 250 prisoners from Insein Prison in Yangon to Tharyarwaddy Prison in Bago Region, away from prisoners’ family and friends. Former political prisoner Win Zaw Naing told Radio Free Asia that this was an old tactic of the military, used during the era of previous military regimes. He said “Their intent is clear, they want to subject political prisoners to hardships…Their hope is to hurt both the prisoners and their relatives outside the prison.” Conditions at Tharyarwaddy, Insein and Obo Prisons are notoriously terrible with torture, murder, solitary confinement, overcrowding and forced labor routinely inflicted on prisoners and reflect the inhumane situation inside all Myanmar’s prisons.

Two recent examples make this abundantly clear. In September in Mandalay’s Meiktila Prison, Zaw La Pyae, a young railway worker who joined the CDM and was detained on trumped up charges of terrorism in July, died recently after being denied medical treatment, after days of shortness of breath, fatigue and even after collapsing. At Obo Prison, Myanmar Now reports through an unnamed lawyer of many cases like Zaw La Pyae, where prisoners have died due to a lack of medical care and as a result of beatings. This is on top of reports from the All Burma Federation of Student Unions who issued a statement in August, detailing how prisoners at Obo are being starved, beaten, electrocuted and subjected to other forms of torture. In another terrifying incident, four men were tortured and one killed at Sagaing Region’s Hkamti Township police station after being recaptured after breaking out of prison on 18 October. LGBTQ Alliance Myanmar, Monywa People’s Strike Committee and other Myanmar CSOs have called on the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (ICRC) to investigate human rights abuses, forced hard labour and mounting instances of torture in prisons but the ICRC’s request to the junta to resume their prison visit and allow family visits, was rejected. All these cases are the tip of the iceberg, as much is still unknown about the day-to-day situation in Myanmar’s prisons and should be a massive wake-up call to the international community.

As at 28 October, 15,986 have been arbitrarily arrested by the military junta, with 12,783 remaining in detention. In the wake of escalating violence inside and outside of prisons, the international community must apply increased pressure on the military junta to end atrocities, both on the ground and inside the prisons. The international community’s repeated failure to bring about accountability for widespread atrocities should be alarming to them. The UN’s response in particular over the last 20 months since the attempted coup has been abysmal, with UN agencies working with the junta and unable to curb the junta’s violence both against civilians and political prisoners. For those displaced or in prisons, meaningful actions from the international community are sorely needed, including more targeted sanctions on the military junta, their businesses and affiliated cronies in order to end the flow of cash to the junta – cash that is being used to fund their atrocity crimes. Simultaneously, a global arms embargo and sanctions on jet fuel are needed to end airstrikes against civilians. Overall, we must not forget those in prisons, but shed a light on their situation and end their suffering. This is achievable through supporting the Spring Revolution and the National Unity Government, not by standing by and doing nothing.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Malaysia: Halt forced deportation of people from Myanmar and ensure access to asylum

By Amnesty International

Southeast Asian MPs call for combating the politicization of religion and protecting minorities

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

အင်းစိန်ထောင် တိုက်ခိုက်မှုဖြစ်စဥ်နှင့် စပ်လျဥ်း၍ သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By General Strike Committee, Anti-Junta Mass Movement and General Strike Committee of Nationalities

Statement on Explosions and Shootings at Insein Prison, Yangon

By National Unity Government of Myanmar

Decapitation: The Junta’s Ultimate Method of Terror to Subjugate the Myanmar People

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

UNHCR issues urgent appeal to stop forced returns of Myanmar nationals

By United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees



ACLED Regional Overview: East Asia Pacific (8-14 October 2022)

By Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

A Glance into Myanmar’s Suffering – where is our right to freedom of assembly?

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization

ထိခိုက်ဆုံးရှုံးခဲ့ရမှုများထဲမှ အပိုင်းအစများ – မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ၏ငြိမ်းချမ်းစွာစုဝေးခွင့်နှင့် စီတန်းလှည့်လည်ခွင့်

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization

Freedom of the Net – Myanmar

By Freedom House and Free Expression Myanmar

Myanmar’s internet freedom declines to one of world’s worst – မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ၏ အင်တာနက်ပေါ်ရှိလွတ်လပ်ခွင့် အခြေအနေသည် ကမ္ဘာ့အင်တာနက်လွတ်လပ်ခွင့် အဆိုးရွားဆုံး နိုင်ငံများမှ တစ်နိုင်ငံအဖြစ်သို့ ကျဆင်းလာခဲ့

By Freedom House and Free Expression Myanmar

ICRC and World Bank partner to support violence-affected communities in Myanmar

By International Committee of the Red Cross

Karenni Human Rights Group – Quarterly Briefer (July to September 2022)

By Karenni Human Rights Group

Battles Between Arakan Army (AA) and SAC

By Nyan Lynn Thit Analytica

ရက္ခိုင့်တပ်တော် (AA)နှင့် စစ်ကောင်စီ၏ ထိတွေ့တိုက်ပွဲများ

By Nyan Lynn Thit Analytica

Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot (11 – 17 October 2022)

By UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”