Several political prisoners staged a rare protest inside Myanmar’s Insein Prison on Friday, July 23, to demand freedom days after the ruling military junta announced an emergency COVID-19 amnesty for inmates.
A Radio Free Asia report said the prisoners sang pro-democracy songs and called for the release of detained National League for Democracy leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint.
The singing could be heard well outside the walls of the prison in Myanmar’s city of Yangon, said the report.
“The first demand is to free political prisoners charged under [Penal Code] 505 (a) [for ‘state defamation’], as inmates with minor criminal cases and drug offenders have had their charges dropped in recent days,” said the lawyer of the political prisoners.
The military junta has earlier announced an emergency COVID-19 amnesty for inmates charged with all minor crimes except defamation.
The lawyer said the political prisoners were also demanding “adequate and proper medical treatment to those who have been ill” and relax restrictions for inmates on items sent from families.
The RFA report said six military trucks arrived at Insein Prison after the protest erupted and security at the facility has been tightened.
The protest came three days after the junta’s July 20 order to release all prisoners held under a group of 11 charges that include gambling, possession of illicit liquor, drugs, and prostitution.
The release, which the military said had been granted to protect against the spread of COVID-19, drew criticism for omitting detainees who had spoken out against the junta’s Feb. 1 coup d’état.
Myanmar is struggling with a devastating third wave of COVID-19 infections. The official monthly infection rate has jumped from around two percent of those tested in April 2020 during the first wave to 23 percent earlier this month.
The country’s hospitals are operating at maximum capacity and turning away all but the most seriously ill, said the RFA report.
Efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 in Myanmar were dealt a serious blow when the country’s military seized power on Feb. 1, claiming that a landslide victory by the NLD in the country’s November 2020 ballot was the result of voter fraud. – with a report from Radio Free Asia