Prison guards shoot 7 inmates dead in Myanmar’s Sagaing region

Authorities say they were responding to a riot, but some question the junta’s version of events.
Prison guards shoot 7 inmates dead in Myanmar’s Sagaing region A photo published online by the military's 'Viber Group' shows an aerial view of Kalay Prison in Myanmar's Sagaing region, March 15, 2022.

Authorities in Myanmar’s Sagaing region killed seven inmates and injured a dozen others after using live ammunition to quell a “riot” at Kalay Prison on Tuesday, according to the junta. But sources say the deaths were likely the result of a violent crackdown on a protest over ill-treatment at the facility.

A statement issued by the junta said that guards at the Kalay prison were forced to open fire with MA-11 assault rifles Tuesday night when around 50 prisoners led by a detained member of the anti-junta Chin National Defense Force (CNDF) paramilitary group named Van Dam “tried to escape.”

The junta claimed that Van Dam and his fellow inmates had taken Warden Kyaw Thu, Deputy Warden Cho Min Latt and Deputy Superintendent Yan Paing Myo hostage, and attempted to flee the prison using the men as bargaining chips.

The CNDF is an offshoot of the prodemocracy People’s Defense Force (PDF) and has been labeled a terrorist organization by the military.

The dead were identified as Van Dam, Myo Win Aung, Win Ko Naing Ko, Mount Nyi, Myo Min Tun, Chan Min Ko and Tu Khaing. The names of the injured have yet to be confirmed.

Kalay Prison is located far from any populated area, and RFA’s Myanmar Service was unable to independently verify the claims made in the official statement.

However, residents of the area and a CNDF official told RFA that they are skeptical of the junta’s statement based on what they had learned of the incident.

“What was announced by the military is so different from what the people heard. The military never tells the truth, and this statement is another example of that,” said one Kalay resident, who declined to be named for security reasons.

“At least seven people were shot dead in prison. The bodies were taken to the town’s hospital, where they were well-guarded. The bodies are said to now be in the morgue.”

While the source suggested that the junta was not telling the truth about the incident, he did not provide details about how the official statement differed from other accounts.

Another resident of Kalay told RFA they believe the inmates were killed when prison guards “cracked down on those protesting the ill-treatment of political prisoners.”

A CNDF official confirmed to RFA that Van Dam, whose real name is Salai Shalom Siang Thang Lian, was a member of his paramilitary group.

“We do not believe what they have announced. Van Dam is one of our most reliable comrades. He has been detained for almost a year now. He was not the kind of guy [the military] described,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“He was a man of good character. We are deeply saddened, not only for Van Dam but also for the other men.”

Van Dam was arrested in June last year while serving in the CNDF in Kalay and was facing terrorism charges.

Other sources pointed out inconsistencies in the junta’s statement about the shooting.

According to the military, guards at the prison tried to disable the inmates by aiming below their waists. But residents noted that photos published by the junta on its online “Viber Group” platform to accompany the statement showed that at least some of those killed had been shot in the head and chest.

A lawyer from Kalay, who also declined to be named, told RFA that the photos suggested guards had acted “illegally” in their response to the situation.

‘Protecting the majority’

Khin Shwe, a spokesman for the junta’s Department of Prisons, confirmed to RFA that political prisoners were among those killed and injured in Tuesday’s shooting, but did not provide details on the number of political prisoners involved in the incident.

When asked about the photos, he acknowledged that some of the victims “might have been hit in the head when they tried to dodge the bullets” and that prison guards may have misfired “in an emergency situation.”

“This kind of thing can happen when we are trying to protect the majority,” he said. “We are providing proper treatment to the injured, according to the seriousness of their injuries. They are getting treatment at the District Hospital.”

Khin Shwe said prison authorities will investigate the incident and take “necessary action” against those involved.

A spokesman from the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) told RFA that prison guards may have fired indiscriminately at the political prisoners “with malice.”

“There is so much repression in prisons, and sometimes political prisoners stage protests,” the spokesman said, adding that he thinks there is “a good chance” Tuesday’s deaths were the result of a violent crackdown on such a protest.

“What we are sure of is that political prisoners are now being subjected to torture to some degree in almost every prison in Myanmar due to the ongoing political unrest,” he said.

Since seizing power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup, junta troops have killed at least 1,677 civilians and detained 12,691 political prisoners, according to the AAPP.

Authorities have responded to earlier protests over ill-treatment by political prisoners in Yangon’s Insein Prison and Mandalay’s Obo Prison by beating protesters, denying them medical treatment, and putting them in solitary confinement.  

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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