Prison head transferred after rights abuse probe
Prison rights advocates are demanding further action be taken after an investigation by the MNHRC revealed widespread abuses and exploitation at Mandalay’s Myin Chan Prison.
SEVERE rights abuses reported at a Mandalay correctional facility – including improper healthcare for inmates living with HIV – have allegedly resulted in the transferring of a prison warden but no further action, The Myanmar Times has learned.
Inmates had rebelled against correctional officers and staged a protest on October 11, prompting the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to launch an inquiry.
According to prison advocacy groups, such abuses are indicative of the rarely reported but widespread exploitation and violations occurring within Myanmar’s correctional institutions.
The investigation team from MNHRC found that Mandalay’s Myin Chan Prison had all the usual dysfunctional trappings and then some, with healthcare and food supply problems, corruption and corporal abuse all noted as endemic at the facility.
According to a statement released last month by the rights commission, an investigation team was sent to Myin Chan Prison to follow up on the protest.
“Although the disturbance on October 11 was officially due to a prison fight, we found out that the actual cause was dissatisfaction with the head of the prison,” an MNHRC statement said.
The commissioners found enough violations to classify them into four different groupings: food supply, healthcare, problems related to tax collection and personal belongings, and other general dissatisfactions.
“The HIV patients who are receiving ART [antiretroviral therapy] medication and the TB patients receiving treatment are not getting enough food or nutrients in order to withstand the effects of their medication,” the MNHRC said in its statement under the category of “food supply” issues.
The MNHRC also found the widespread problem of prison overcrowding was particularly acute at Myin Chan. Up to 80 inmates were being detained in rooms with a capacity half that number.
“Myin Chan Prison should request additional funding in order to expand with more buildings since they are currently detaining double the amount of prisoners that they are supposed to detain,” said the MNHRC.
Myin Chan inmates were also being subjected to a rash of corruption including forced donations, and taxes that were being used to float the prison’s expenses, according to the commission’s investigators.
The MNHRC did not return repeated requests for comment about the Myin Chan Prison probe. However, U Min Tun Soe, deputy director of the Security Department, acknowledged that the facility had been subject to a recent rash of problems that were resolved through staff turnover.
U Min Tun Soe told The Myanmar Times that both prisoners and the head of Myin Chan Prison had made mistakes. He added that the prison warden at the time of the protest, U Zaw Min Aung, had been transferred to another department in Mandalay as a result.
“We removed the official responsible for the mistakes,” he said.
When contacted by The Myanmar Times, U Zaw Min Aung did not dispute the account, but declined to add further comment. The current warden, U Khin Maung Htay, also declined to comment when asked if conditions had improved at Myin Chan.
U Min Tun Soe admitted that there had been health concerns at the facility, but said now that a doctor had been appointed to serve the prison, they were resolved.
“It is true that we did not have a doctor [assigned to Myin Chan] but we, the security department, cannot appoint doctors directly; we can only request the healthcare department send one,” he said.
When asked if any additional followup would be taken in response to the alleged abuses, U Min Tun Soe said the prison was awaiting further instruction from the Ministry of Home Affairs following the submission of the MNHRC report.
“The prisoners have requested that we do not use their manpower for the prison’s agriculture and livestock sectors until we fulfill their requests. But there were some requests that we cannot fulfill for security concerns,” he said.
The Myanmar Times requested access to Myin Chan Prison in order to speak with inmates and staff, and survey the conditions, but was denied.
Prison activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma told The Myanmar Times that correctional facilities around the country are failing to provide living standards adequate for human beings, and called on the government to urgently rectify the situation.
“When the state arrests someone and imprisons them they are taking them into state custody, which means they need to take responsibility for that person’s healthcare, food and clothes, all while keeping in mind the dignity of the prisoner,” said Ko Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the AAPPB. “The state is currently failing to fulfill those responsibilities, which is leading to cases that result in the death of inmates.”
At the end of October, two inmates at Yangon’s Insein Prison died of severe illnesses. One had contracted pneumonia while in detention, while the other reportedly suffered from a heart attack soon after his arrival.
Ko Bo Kyi cautioned that the problems at Myin Chan Prison should not be considered resolved with the transfer of the warden, and said more action is needed.
“This transfer is not enough. A proper investigation should be done and if [the prison head] is found to have broken the rules and regulations, he should face legal repercussions,” Ko Bo Kyi said.