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Myanmar Political Inmates Stage Hunger Strike Against Junta

FILE - Prison officers and police gather near the entrance of Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar, Oct. 18, 2021.
FILE - Prison officers and police gather near the entrance of Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar, Oct. 18, 2021.

Dozens of political detainees in Myanmar’s notorious Insein Prison in Yangon have staged a hunger strike over the past four days to peacefully object to junta rule, sources said Friday, marking the third such protest since the military seized power just over a year ago.

An attorney who spoke on condition of anonymity told RFA’s Myanmar Service that 149 political inmates are refusing meals from staff at the prison in Yangon as part of the protest, which began on the one-year anniversary of the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup.

“They are no longer eating the foods provided by the prison — they only eat food sent from their homes,” he said. “I don’t know how many days the strike will go on.”

According to the attorney, the hunger strike was organized by political prisoners in the No. 2 unit of Insein’s Thabyay Hall. Prisoners have issued no demands and authorities are not negotiating with the hunger strikers to try to make them stop, he added.

Other sources close to the prison and the families of political prisoners there noted that this is the third prison strike since the coup, following ones in July and December. Authorities responded to the earlier strikes by beating protesters, denying them medical treatment, and putting them in solitary confinement.

When contacted by RFA on Friday, Prison Department spokesperson Khin Shwe denied that there are any strikes taking place in the prison.

In an emailed response to questions by RFA, the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yangon said that it was monitoring the situation and would need to gather more information before it could issue a statement.

A former political prisoner who was sentenced to seven months in Insein Prison for incitement after the military coup said inmates put their lives on the line to stage prison strikes.

“We can’t just end a strike once the authorities crack down on us without getting any concessions,” said the former prisoner, who also declined to be named. “Prisoners need to be determined to succeed.”

Risking their lives

Tun Kyi, a member of a former political prisoners’ group, said the inmates in Insein are willing to take risks to their own safety because they are so strongly opposed to military rule.

“They always say, ‘We are like chickens in a basket, and they can pull out and kill us anytime they like,’” he said.

“That’s why the prisoners are determined to resist their rule. I think they want to make sure the military cannot control them, whether it is in the prison or outside it, no matter how brutally they treat us [as a nation].”

Tun Kyi said that while he admires the political prisoners for their protest, he is worried for their safety. He noted that the junta had recently reopened an interrogation center inside the prison that was closed in 2004.

Since the coup, RFA has documented many reports of detainees facing abuse in junta interrogation centers, including torture, sexual violence and even death.

Zeyar Lwin, the leader of a local branch of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force militia, also applauded the political prisoners on their hunger strike.

“These prisoners are resisting the junta by refusing to allow the authorities to rule over them,” he said.

“They are risking their lives to show their resistance. Their strike means challenging the prison authorities and challenging the military regime. They are showing that putting them in the prison will not stop them from opposing the junta.”

Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratically elected government on Feb. 1, 2021, claiming voter fraud had led to a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in the country’s November 2020 election.

The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide protests calling for a return to civilian rule, killing 1,519 people and arresting nearly 9,000 over the last nine months, according to the Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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