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HomeWorld NewsSmuggled sketches offer glimpses into harsh Myanmar prison

Smuggled sketches offer glimpses into harsh Myanmar prison

Fourteen smuggled-out sketches and interviews with eight former inmates of Myanmar’s infamous Insein Institution grant a unique look into the country’s most feared prison. The blue-inked sketches showcase daily life for groups of male prisoners in their dormitories, which are seemingly inhumane.

The Insein Institution is Myanmar’s notorious clock or pizza-shaped prison, located north of Yangon. The prison is known for holding political prisoners and has a decades-old reputation for mistreatment and brutal conditions. Insein is where thousands of political prisoners got sent since last year’s military coup. Communication with the outside world is extremely limited.

Although the prison’s capacity is 5,000 people, the prison continues to take in more and more prisoners, ignoring the blatant fire hazards and seemingly sadistic living conditions. The prison currently holds approximately 13,000 inmates, most of them convicted criminals. The sketches show harsh living conditions thrust upon the prisoners; men queuing for water from a trough to wash, talking, or lying on the floor in the tropical heat.

The artist and smuggler of the sketches, Nyi Nyi Htwe, 24, was released in October after several months for a defamation conviction on charges he denies. He went on to say, “We’re no longer humans behind bars,”
The sketches got released by Reuters, which could not independently verify them.

Interviews with eight recently released inmates indicated that the facility is infested with rats. Bribes are common. Prisoners pay for sleeping space on the floor, and widespread illness is untreated. The former inmates noted that the coronavirus thrived in the crowded prison last year. All the sick people were bunched together, some with severe symptoms.

Since the military took over due to the February 1 Coup, the aging prison has become a central part of the continuing crackdown against the pro-democracy movement in the Southeast Asian nation. According to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), they have detained more than 5,900 people, and a majority remain in custody. ASEAN documented that at least 87 are journalists among those imprisoned, and 51 are still in detention.

After the coup, prisoners were prohibited from going outside or watching television, except for regime-controlled networks. Visits with family members got to cut back, and communication with the outside world was further restricted. Family members looking for detained relatives commonly find out whether they are being kept at the facility by bringing food and seeing if the corrections officers approve it.

In recent days, Journalists are finding themselves jailed in this unbearable prison more and more. In March, the officials arrested Nathan Maung, an American citizen, and Hanthar Nyein, co-founders of the online news site Kamayut Media. The two are accused of undermining the military. The Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that just before arriving at Insein, the two men were held for weeks at a nearby interrogation center and severely beaten, burned, and forced to kneel on ice with their hands cuffed behind them.

Another American journalist, Danny Fenster, was arrested this past week. Mr. Fenster has been denied access to diplomatic agents. On Friday, the State Department expressed “grave concern” about the incarceration of the two American journalists and urged the regime to release them.

Following the images, and interviews displaying the inhumane living conditions and seemingly targeted actions detaining journalists, humanitarian groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, requested access to the jail and have since been denied access.



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