By YE MON and MRATT KYAW THU | FRONTIER
YANGON — Security forces shot four inmates dead late on Wednesday night while suppressing a riot at Shwebo Prison in Sagaing Region, the Sagaing chief minister told reporters, as similar riots broke out at five other prisons across the country.
Inmates were protesting against the perceived unfairness of a series of mass presidential pardons to mark the Myanmar New Year, in which more than 23,000 prisoners were freed.
At Shwebo Prison prisoners began protesting at around 7pm on Wednesday because they were not included in the pardon.
Within several hours the protest had escalated. Photographs posted to Facebook appear to show police and military forces entering the prison compound and using tear gas grenades and firing weapons in an attempt to control the riot.
More warning shots were fired on Thursday, but nobody else was hurt, Sagaing Region chief minister Dr Myint Naing said. He did not say who was responsible for killing the prisoners.
Protests also took place in Hpa-an Prison in Kayin State, Pathein Prison in Ayeyarwady Region, Maw Lite Kalay Prison in Sagaing Region, Myitkyina Prison in Kachin State and Thayarwaddy Prison in Bago Region. The Myanmar Prisons Department, part of the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs, has not yet released a statement.
Myint Naing told reporters outside Shwebo Prison on Thursday that the riot was over and that the prisoners had made four demands in subsequent talks with the government.
They asked for all prisoners to be given equal rights, for legal action to be taken against the security officers responsible for the deaths, for the prisoners with the longest sentences to be moved to another prison, and for the chief minister and journalists to be given access to the prison without security accompaniment.
Myint Naing gave journalists permission to enter the prison on Thursday evening and said he would relay the other demands to the Union government. He said he intends to remain in Shwebo Township for the next few days to monitor the situation.
The riot in Shwebo Prison was live-streamed on Facebook by a prisoner under the name of Kyal Zin, prompting online criticism of prison authorities for allowing inmates to use mobile phones. Myint Naing said he had instructed prison guards to seize all mobile phones.
U Yu Lwin Aung, a member of the Myanmar Human Rights Commission said that prison staff would have been responsible for allowing prisoners to use mobile phones.
U Aung Myo Kyaw, head of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners’s Yangon office told Frontier the government should form an investigation team to look into the riot and to explain how prisoners were selected for the presidential pardons.
“There are other ways to suppress a riot. The security forces have violated human rights. They should not have shot to kill,” he said.
The chair of the Myanmar Rescue Organization in Shwebo told Frontier that the four prisoners were male and a fifth prisoner was wounded during the security crackdown.
U Kyaw Naing Htay said his organisation had helped to transport the four dead bodies from Shwebo Prison to Shwebo Hospital.