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Political prisoners mysteriously missing in Myanmar

Originally published on Mohinga Matters

The post-2021 military coup scenario in Myanmar has been marred by a persistent erosion of human rights. Since the military’s attempt to seize power in February 2021, the country has witnessed a sharp escalation of violence, marked by killings of protesters and pro-democracy activists, along with arbitrary arrests of politicians, human rights defenders, pro-democracy supporters and protesters.

As of July 2023, 24,123 pro-democracy activists have been arbitrarily arrested, and among them, 19,733 people are still detained states the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

In July 2022, veteran human right activist Ko Jimmy and a former politician Phyo Zeya Thaw – together with two pro-democracy activists Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw – were executed by the military despite international condemnation of their death sentences. This stirred an outcry from the international community. To avoid this type of reaction, the military regime now employs a new tactic. 

Reports of political prisoners going missing during prison transfers are alarmingly on the rise. The extrajudicial killings of political prisoners during these “transfers” point toward a calculated campaign to eliminate dissidents inside the country’s prisons.

Prisoners who have spoken out against the coup or have participated in pro-democracy movements have become victims of this heinous practice. In many cases, the circumstances surrounding these killings include torture, lack of proper food, lack of medication and deliberate neglect.

In an RFA interview with Nilar Thein (wife of the late Ko Jimmy) also reiterates that the military is using a prison transfer to commit extrajudicial killings to avoid international pressure and condemnation.

On Aug. 18, the AAPP released a statement on the alarming state of political prisoners being killed during prison transfers called: “No More Safety: Political Prisoners’ Lives in Danger.” The statement not only records the precarious situation political prisoners face in prison, but it also highlights the military regime’s inhumane torture and murder of political prisoners under the pretext of prison transfers. 

AAPP added that: “in recent months, prisoners are frequently being taken outside of prison compounds and being interrogated without anyone’s knowledge.” They are being inhumanely tortured, beaten within an inch of their life, and intentionally killed.

On July 19, the AAPP reported the death of eight political prisoners from Daik-U (Kyaiksakaw) Prison in Bago Region, after the families of Khant Linn Naing and Pyae Phyo Han received letters from prison authorities on July 7 and 8. The report states that 37 political prisoners at Daik-U (Kyaiksakaw) Prison went missing June 27 and only eight of their deaths had been confirmed. The AAPP also managed to confirm the deaths of six other political prisoners. 

A similar case occurred on Aug. 15, when over 100 political prisoners from Monywa Prison were forcibly transferred to Mandalay and Myingyan prisons in five military vehicles. The vehicle convoy transferring the prisoners was attacked by an explosive mine near Tadaphyu bridge near Myayne Village near Monywa, Sagaing Region.

The attack resulted in the death of a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) healthcare worker and critically injured another. Five other political prisoners were also injured, and it is unknown who was responsible for the attack on the convoy. A similar attack occurred during the transfer of 150 political prisoners from Monywa to Myingyan Prison, which critically injured two.

The case of extrajudicial killings of political prisoners is a clear example of the military regime’s atrocities. The abuse, torture, and killing of political prisoners has not received enough international attention. Since the 2021 coup, the right to life, the prohibition of torture, and the principles of due process are all disregarded, perpetuating an environment of impunity as the military has never been held accountable for its crimes.

At least 4,023 people have been killed by pro-military forces, and at least 150 political prisoners have died due to poor healthcare, mistreatment, and torture, or during interrogation, states the AAPP. Although the real number on the ground might be higher. As usual, the international community’s action on the military has been slow and unreliable to this day. 

*This story has been edited for brevity. To read the entire story go to Mohinga Matters, a platform where aspiring writers share their thoughts, ideas and opinions freely.


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