Burmese Prisoners Killed After Cyclone

Burmese guards beat prisoners and deprived them of food after a riot following last year’s cyclone. A group of survivors was sentenced on Jan. 11 to additional terms of 2-12 years.
2009-01-30
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Insein Prison, north of Rangoon.
Insein Prison, north of Rangoon.
RFA/Tyler Chapman
BANGKOK—Guards at Burma’s Insein Prison beat scores of inmates following a disturbance nine months ago, according to sources who asked not to be named. Nine of the prisoners later died from their injuries, the sources said.

The beatings occurred during questioning aimed at identifying prisoners who rioted after the prison was damaged by Cyclone Nargis. After being beaten, the men were denied water for four days and food for 11 days.

“They told us they would give us food if we confessed,” a prisoner said. “But even after some confessed, we didn’t get any food. Then, 11 days later, we began to receive a spoonful of rice puree twice a day.”

Rioting at Insein Prison broke out after the prison was pummeled by Cyclone Nargis beginning around midnight on May 2. The storm tore zinc roofs off some of the prison’s colonial-era buildings and left prisoners exposed for several hours to heavy rains and wind.

Frustrated at the long delay in being moved, prisoners in storm-damaged Halls No. 3 and 4 threatened to break out of their cells. Then, as prisoners in the damaged buildings were being relocated, the assistant warden and more than 20 armed guards began to argue with the prisoners and fired gunshots into the air.

“One of the bullets hit an iron bar, ricocheted off the wall, and hit a prisoner named Thein San in the chest,” a prisoner said. “The rest of the prisoners tried to hide, and some of the younger prisoners in Hall No. 8 started a fire.”

Suspects questioned, beaten

Authorities then moved prisoners suspected of taking part in the disturbance to a central part of the prison, where they were questioned and beaten on their heads and backs, sources said.

Prisoners who were beaten included Wai Moe, Khin Kyaw, Soe Kyaw Kyaw, Tun Lin Aung, and Aye Min Oo, according to friends of the men’s families.Interrogations continued for several weeks and ended with 103 prisoners identified as rioters, with 41 identified as key leaders.

On Jan. 11, a special court inside Insein handed down sentences of two years each to 28 participants in the riot. Wai Moe and six others were given 12 years each for arson, damaging public property, and leading the riot, according to sources close to the trial and the prisoners.

But Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) spokesman Bo Kyi said that it is the prison authorities themselves who should have been charged with crimes.

“Under international conventions, beatings and other forms of torture should not be used as punishments in prison procedure,” he said.

“The perpetrators of such beatings should be convicted for their actions. If they are not, we must assume that torturing prisoners is state policy.”

Original reporting in Burmese by Kyaw Min Htun. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Richard Finney.

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