Two inmates die of illnesses at Insein
Police say these are the seventh and eighth deaths at the prison this year, while an advocacy group calls on the government to overhaul the justice system and address the health issues.
TWO inmates at Yangon’s Insein Prison died over the last week following severe health conditions. Officials say the young men were unhealthy when they arrived at the facility, but rights groups allege that inadequate prison hospitals and poor sanitation regularly leads to the spread of disease and preventable deaths behind bars.
In the first case, 27-year-old Ko Wai Lwin of Thingangyun township passed away after contracting pneumonia. He had been serving a six-month sentence after he was found guilty under section 19(e) of the colonial-era Arms Act on August 5. The provision covers unlicensed possession of a weapon.
Ko Wai Lwin was found dead in the prison hospital at 3am on the morning of October 19. He had choked to death, according to Police Captain Shwe Zan. Earlier that same morning he had been admitted to the prison hospital after he began coughing blood in his dormitory.
On October 23, another man, Ko Kyaw Min Aung, 34, died of a heart attack.
The inmate had been convicted and handed a three-year sentence under sections 380 and 457 of the penal code for theft and trespassing on October 19. On October 23 around 2pm he was rushed to the hospital with trouble breathing. He died at 4:30pm, according to the police captain and Insein township judge U Nyi Nyi Tun.
The deaths are the seventh and eighth this year at Insein Prison.
“The inmates were unhealthy before they were sent to prison,” said an official from the prison department who spoke on condition of anonymity. “If an intake is ill, the prison hospital is responsible for providing medical treatment to them ... [With the most recent death] we knew his health condition was worsening, so we sent him to the hospital. But unfortunately, he died within a few hours.”
The ailing criminal justice system, with its rundown and cramped penitentiaries, poses an enormous challenge for the reform agenda set by the government, now staffed by a large number of former political prisoners.
While data on treatment behind bars is hard to come by, what little information exists paints a picture of inadequate prison health facilities and rampant sickness.
A recent report compiled by the prison activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma called the health conditions at the correctional facilities “abysmal”.
Proper sanitation and hygiene are perennially absent, sewage facilities are known to overflow habitually, and in rainy season, excrement mixes with drinking water to prompt regular cholera outbreaks.
Combined with a poor diet and insufficient exercise, the pervasive problem of overcrowding creates an environment conducive to spreading disease. Inmates frequently fall ill, with malaria, tuberculosis, dysentery and scabies all considered “fairly normal conditions in prison”, according to the report, which was released last month. Severe malnutrition was also flagged as a common problem in the facilities.
“The National League for Democracy government has not yet addressed the oppressive prison system and made sure that all prisoners are given fair treatment. The government is still failing in that regard,” said Ko Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the AAPPB. “Some prisoners have died because of the oppression in prison and the bad health conditions.”
‘The National League for Democracy government has not yet addressed the oppressive prison system.’
Ko Bo Kyi AAPPB