Junta planning to build 2 new prisons for political activists

The military will run the prisons “so that the political prisoners cannot have any leniency,” one source said.
By RFA Burmese
Junta planning to build 2 new prisons for political activists New prison building being built in Mawlamyine township, Mon state, June 23, 2023. Myanmar’s ruling junta is building two new prisons that will hold only political prisoners and will be run by the military, sources close to the prison department told Radio Free Asia.
Credit: Aung Kyi Thein

Myanmar’s ruling junta is building two new prisons for political prisoners, an indication it could be planning for more arrests of pro-democracy activists and others who oppose the military regime.

One of the new prisons is under construction in Mawlamyine township of Mon state and is nearing completion, a junta official who refused to be named told Radio Free Asia. The other will be built in Pathein township of Ayeyarwady region, according to top military officials and sources close to the prison department. 

The Mawlamyine prison is located in a sparsely populated area with dense forest, which could make it easier to conduct torture, according to an official of the anti-regime Mon State Revolutionary Organization, or MSRO, who refused to be named for security reasons.

“The junta is building new prisons as a threat to the people,” he told RFA. “I believe that the junta intentionally chose the remote places that would be good for keeping the news in the dark and covering its tracks.”

The Mawlamyine prison will likely include revolutionary activists, political prisoners, innocent citizens who have been arbitrarily detained and people charged under a broad and vague anti-state provision of the country’s Penal Code that penalizes “incitement” and “false news,” the MSRO official said. 

Detained protesters look out from a prison vehicle as they are transported to a court in Letpadan in 2015. Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Three layers of security

The junta has arrested and jailed thousands of pro-democracy activists since taking power in a coup d’etat on Feb. 1, 2021. Currently, most political prisoners are mixed in with other prisoners at facilities run by the regime’s prison department. 

There have been three prison breaks since the coup – including an escape in May in which 10 prisoners broke out of Taungoo Prison in Bago region. 

After two political prisoners ran away from Kayin state’s Hpa-An Prison last year, the junta built a new brick wall, a new watch tower and military bunkers. 

The two new prisons will be run by the military, sources close to the prison department said. 

The junta’s Mon state prime minister, Aung Kyi Thien, said in a statement on June 23 that he recently visited and inspected the new two-story Mawlamyine prison, which had dining halls, staff quarters and three layers of security. 

Officials plan to transfer youth prisoners from two other prisons to Mawlamyine, according to a person close to the prison department, who asked not to be named for security reasons.

“The junta is going to systematically tighten its control of the political prisoners in the newly built prison,” he said “The military is going to directly run the prison so that the political prisoners cannot have any leniency.”

ENG_BUR_NewPrisons_07062023_03 (1).JPG
A prison guard stands guard at Insein prison gate in Yangon, Myanmar, in 2019. Credit: Ann Wang/Reuters

Transfers and possibly more arrests

Four local residents in Ayeyarwady region, including a former political prisoner, told RFA that the Pathein prison will be built with a 5.4 meter-high (18-feet) brick fence and a security tower near the southwest military headquarters.

The land plot to build them on is already being cleared, a local resident said. 

An official from a mailing group that assists political prisoners told RFA that there could be more arrests after the new prisons begin operating.

“The construction of a new prison is, in my personal opinion, not just to keep politicians in isolation. I think they’ve built a new prison to transfer prisoners from other prisons, for example from Insein or Obo prisons,” he said, referring to facilities located in Yangon and Mandalay, Myanmar’s two largest cities.

RFA contacted the junta’s Mon state spokesman, Toe Win, and Ayeyarwady region spokesman Maung Maung Than by telephone to ask about the prison projects, but they did not respond.

Prison department spokesman Naing Win also didn’t answer RFA’s telephone call. 

Since the 2021 coup, the junta has released more than 70,000 prisoners in 12 announced prison amnesties. But just 2,000 of those released were political prisoners, according to statistics compiled by the Thailand-based monitoring group, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.