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Mapping Myanmar’s prisons

January 31st, 2024  •  Author:   Myanmar Witness  •  5 minute read
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Key Finding Details

Between February 2021 and January 2024, Myanmar Witness has been monitoring and documenting information on prisons and other sites of detention. This report sets out the key findings of this investigation:

  • Official Prisons: 53
  • Unconfirmed Prisons: 6
  • Total Prisons mapped: 59
  • Unmapped Prisons: 13 (listed but not geolocated, shown in the Appendix)
  • Official Camps: 29
  • Unconfirmed Camps: 24
  • Total Labour Camps mapped: 53

Main Trends:

  • Myanmar Witness has documented the expansion of Official Prisons both inside and adjacent to the facilities’ perimeters.
  • Myanmar Witness identified 25 prison sites (42% of the 59 mapped) which have been expanded since the coup. Analysis reveals that 33 new structures (hereafter referred to as ‘additions’) were erected outside the prison perimeter. 
  • Due to the security surrounding these ‘additions’ and factors such as location and structure, Myanmar Witness believes that they are new detention facilities connected to the official prisons.
  • A further two prisons, Katha Prison and Monywa Prison (featured in the case studies section), had large perimeter expansions onto the existing prison structure.
  • Based on the 25 additions identified by Myanmar Witness, as well as the two prisons that saw large perimeter expansions, 46% of the 59 prisons mapped were expanded.
  • Myanmar Witness also identified two prisons that have been built since the February 2021 coup, beginning construction in 2021 and 2022. These have been geolocated and are located in Mawlamyine Township in Mon State and Monywa Township in Sagaing Region.
  • Two more prisons are scheduled to open in the near future in Ayeyarwady and Bago states. The Ayeyarwady State prison near Pathein appears to be near completion, showing up in recent Sentinel imagery.
  • Myanmar Witness determined that 40 prisons appeared to have undergone development or maintenance since the coup, including new roofs, upgrades to gatehouses, added watchtowers, and updated structures. These changes were found in 68% of prisons mapped. However, it is unclear if such changes amount to increased prisoner accommodation.
  • Out of the 59 prisons mapped by Myanmar Witness, 88% were renovated or expanded in size in some way since the February 2021 coup.
  • Satellite analysis reveals that camps do not appear to have undergone the same level of upgrades or changes. Instead, most appear to have continuous activity within the ‘production sites’: quarry or agricultural fields around the camps.
  • Satellite imagery is more regularly updated for prisons than camps, perhaps due to the rural location of many camps.
  • An investigation into ‘unofficial detention’ sites (those not mentioned in public records or considered temporary sites of detention) did not yield significant results. The sites identified had already been reported on by media outlets and the lack of user-generated content prevented Myanmar Witness from providing additional information.

Executive Summary

Since the February 2021 coup, political opponents, human rights advocates and protestors have been detained and labelled political prisoners. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has reported that 25,382 people have been arrested as political prisoners (as of 7 Nov 2023), and concerns about prisoners’ safety and rights have been frequently reported on by the media.

In July 2022, four political prisoners were executed, bringing the rights of prisoners back into the media. As of 6 April 2023, the State Administration Council (SAC) has sentenced a further 151 individuals to death. Many human rights have come into conflict with the SAC’s brutal crackdown following the coup. Freedom of expression, as well as the right to protest and assembly, have been called into question.

The safety of those at risk of detention and those already detained is of great concern to Myanmar Witness. Open-source research has limitations; for example, prisoners’ rights are hard to monitor and verify only using open-source research. However, through satellite analysis, Myanmar Witness has mapped, geolocated and monitored Myanmar’s prison systems, providing useful open-source information. This exercise has revealed several prisons and labour camps, some of which have been expanded since the coup in February 2021. The following describes the investigation breakdown:

  • Phase 1.1: Official Prisons Mapping – Completed February 2023, updated September 2023.

  • Phase 1.2: Investigation into Unofficial Detention claims on Facebook – Collection completed August 2023 (focusing on February – July 2021 timeframe).

  • Phase 1.3: Official Labour Camps Mapping – Completed October 2023.

During Phase 1.1, the collection, investigation and mapping of official prisons in Myanmar, images were geolocated and archived. In total, 59 prisons were geolocated (53 verified and six unverified), including 33 additions connected to 25 of these prison facilities. Six case studies are included in this report which highlight the various changes seen across the prison facilities since February 2021, such as perimeter expansions, new construction and facility upkeep. Similarly, labour camps were investigated and geolocated. Myanmar Witness confirmed each location named on the official Myanmar Prisons Department website. The page was created prior to the coup and has not been updated since. The page’s website certificate was renewed in September 2023, and it is assumed that it is now under SAC control. This report presents two case studies which showcase the similarities and differences between labour practices at these facilities. Myanmar Witness also investigated claims related to detention sites not listed on the official Myanmar government detentions website. However, this was halted indefinitely due to limited UGC for analysis.

Satellite analysis of these sites shows that official prison facilities have undergone more improvements and upgrades, including the addition of new structures (hereafter called ‘additions’), than labour camps. Due to their fortification, Myanmar Witness believes that these new ‘additions’ are detainment zones outside of the official prison perimeters. Although few exterior changes are visible at the labour camps, the fields and quarries associated with almost all locations analysed appear to show continuous activity and production.

Myanmar Witness will continue to use open-source techniques to shed light on human rights infringements within Myanmar’s detention facilities. This is of particular importance due to the increased use of the death penalty in recent months and claims of physical abuse within these facilities.

Download the full report in pdf