Myanmar to investigate riots this week at 7 prisons

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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government said Friday it will investigate protests and riots that broke out this week at seven different prisons around the country that it believes were coordinated.

The government in Sagaing region in northwestern Myanmar said it has restored control over the Shwebo township prison, where it said four prisoners died and two others were injured, along with two prison staff. It appeared to have been the most violent uprising and the last to be quashed.

The office of President Win Myint said in a statement that there had been riots Wednesday and Thursday at six other prisons in northern, central and southeastern parts of the country. It said prisoners claimed they were dissatisfied with a recent series of mass pardons "as an excuse.'

It said investigations would be made "to bring out the truth" because the similarity of statements from the prisons and the transmission of live video to social media from prisoners' illegal cellphones indicated "linkages and incitement."

The Sagaing government said in a statement that the authorities fired guns 20 times during the rioting to quell prisoners who were attacking prison staff with pipes, wooden rods and stones.

Unconfirmed reports in Myanmar media said there also were protests in April after a first batch of more than 9,000 prisoners were released by a presidential pardon. It was reported that shots were fired during an April 20 riot in Sittwe in southwestern Myanmar, and that Sagaing regional minister Myint Naing had to negotiate with prisoners after an initial riot in Shwebo broke out. About 500 prisoners were released from Shwebo on April 26, but only a few after the latest pardons for 6,500 prisoners nationwide.

On Wednesday night, a Facebook account with the name "Kyal Zin" streamed a live video on Facebook claiming to come from inside Shwebo prison. One image showed a prisoner who was said to have been shot in the stomach. The prisoner making the broadcast refused in an online chat to give his real name but said he was serving a 20-year term for robbery.

Although prisoners are not allowed to have cellphones, he said he managed to acquire one after the first protest at the prison so he could inform people on the outside about the prisoners' situation. Because he is serving a long prison term, he did not care if it was extended because he was breaking the rules, he said.

He complained that the recent pardons had been applied unfairly, favoring prominent people, and cited the release of a famous actor sentenced in 2018 to 15 years for possession and use of drugs.

"There are other prisoners here who were charged with the same act as Moe Aung Yin, but they didn't get released," he said.

Prison officials said Friday after reasserting control that they had confiscated the phone that had been used for live streaming.

"A prison staff member had sold it," said deputy prison director Zaw Htun. "We will take action against him according to the law."

Officials said they would take actions against five prisoners who led the rioters.

The prisoners had made four demands: to have regional minister Myint Naing and journalists come inside without security, to give all prisoners equal rights, to take responsibility for prisoners who had been killed, and to move long-term convicts to other prisons.

Myint Naing told journalists he would forward the demands to more senior officials.

Win Htein, a senior member of the ruling National League for Democracy Party and a former member of parliament, said he was skeptical about the government's claims of a broad conspiracy linking the prison protests.

"The main reason behind the problem is unfairness in the pardon process in general," he said. "The government has announced that they were incited. But there is no organization stirring up all the prisons."

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