The families of Myanmar’s political prisoners have grown increasingly alarmed in recent weeks amid reports of a series of incidents that have left a number of detainees dead or missing.
The first case to be reported involved the alleged killers of pro-junta propagandist Lily Naing Kyaw. But this was soon followed by further reports of prisoners being shot dead under similarly suspicious circumstances.
Kaung Zarni Hein and Kyaw Thura, the two prisoners accused of assassinating Lily Naing Kyaw and another prominent regime supporter in late May, died while trying to escape after being moved from Insein Prison on July 6, according to a press handout given to media outlets close to the military.
However, it has since been confirmed that at least eight more political detainees met the same fate while being transported from Daik-U Prison in Bago Region on June 27. They were among 37 inmates taken from the prison that day.
According to the Former Political Prisoners Society and other sources, around half of the prisoners were supposed to be taken to Thayarwaddy Prison, also in Bago Region, while the other half were to be sent to Insein Prison in Yangon. However, at least 10 did not reach their intended destinations.
Myanmar Now contacted sources close to the families of the detainees who did not arrive at either prison and has confirmed that eight have been notified of their deaths, while two others have yet to receive any information.
The eight prisoners whose deaths have been officially acknowledged were Khant Lin Naing, Pyae Phyo Aung, Aung Myo Thu, Zin Myint Tun, Arkar Thet Paing Myo, Bo Bo Win, Wai Yan Lwin, and Zin Win Htut. All eight were shot dead by security forces while allegedly attempting to escape from custody during an accident that took place during the transfer, their official death notices claimed.
Although the notices were all dated June 27—the day of the transfer—none of them were delivered before July 7, according to the families. The explanation for the deaths was identical on each notice, even though the prisoners were being taken to two different prisons when the alleged “accident” occurred.
Death notice mix-up
The first two deaths to be confirmed were those of Khant Lin Naing and Pyae Phyo Aung, who were, like the others, being held on terror charges. The prisoners involved in the transfers were serving sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment.
A relative of Khant Lin Naing told Myanmar Now that the notice of his death was shown to his family by Daik-U Prison officials who visited their home in civilian clothing on July 7. It included Khant Lin Naing’s name and prison identification number and bore the seal of Daik-U Prison and the signature of the prison’s head, Kyaw Zeya, the relative said.
The notice letter—which was not given to the family to keep—claimed that Khant Lin Naing “tried to escape from custody by taking advantage of a vehicle accident during the transfer to Thayarwaddy Prison and died after security forces shot at and arrested him.”
The letter confirming the death of Pyae Phyo Aung was also received on July 7, but not by his family. Instead, it was sent to an address in Thanatpin Township, Bago Region, belonging to the wife of Aung Myo Thu, another prisoner who was taken from Daik-U Prison on the same day. The contents of the letter, which was seen by Myanmar Now, were identical to those of the one received by Khant Lin Naing’s family, except for the victim’s personal details and his family’s residential address in Bago Region’s Kyauktaga Township.
After receiving the letter, Aung Myo Thu’s family decided to contact Daik-U Prison authorities to inquire about his situation and whereabouts. The next day, they were told that he had met the same fate as Pyae Phyo Aung and was on a list of prisoners who had been shot dead while being transferred on June 27.
“They said they delivered the death notices according to that list, and it was possible that the letter got delivered to the wrong address because they were not allowed to open the envelope,” said a relative of Aung Myo Thu.
Upon receiving confirmation of their son’s death, Aung Myo Thu’s parents performed Islamic religious rites for him in Yangon on July 14, the relative said. However, like all of the other prisoners who were killed that day, Aung Myo Thu’s body was never returned to his family.
Implausible cause of death
The family of 37-year-old Zin Myint Tun, who had been serving a five-year sentence since his arrest in March 2022, also received the notice letter on July 7. It stated that he died while being transferred to Insein Prison, meaning that he was in a different vehicle from the other victims.
However, the letter claimed that the vehicle that Zin Myint Tun was in also had an accident, and that he had also attempted to take advantage of the situation to escape. It also mentioned that his death was reported to the Daik-U Prison authorities by the Bago Region police command, suggesting that the incident took place in Bago Region, where the others also died.
A former political prisoner with experience of being transferred from Bago Prison to Daik-U Prison under the current regime called the prison authorities’ claims implausible.
“Usually, two or three prison staffers bring the inmates to the vehicles provided for the transfer. All they do is put the prisoners in the vehicle. From there, junta forces take responsibility for security. With prisoners shackled together in pairs with chains, it’s almost impossible for them to even attempt to escape,” he said.
Kyaw Kyaw, the deputy in-charge of the Bago People’s Defense Force (PDF), also noted that the route traveled by the transfer vehicles is densely populated, meaning that it was highly unlikely that nobody witnessed the alleged accident and subsequent shootings.
“There are numerous villages along the road from Daik-U Prison, leaving no isolated areas whatsoever,” he said, adding: “We believe they were all murdered in one place at the same time.”
The last time any of the prisoners’ families had received any news about them was in late May, when they went to the prison to bring parcels for them, as they were permitted to do every 15 days. At that time, family members were told that the prisoners had either been placed in solitary confinement or transferred to other prisons.
In mid-June, when they returned to the prison to deliver more parcels, they received no further news. However, at the end of the month they were told to collect the parcels they had left during their previous visit, as the prisoners had all been transferred. No further information was provided.
The deaths of Arkar Thet Paing Myo and Bo Bo Win were not confirmed until July 14, a full week after the others. Their families also received notices that they had been killed during an escape attempt en route to Thayarwaddy Prison.
Arkar Thet Paing Myo was serving a life sentence handed down in January of last year for engaging in guerrilla activities in Yangon. Bo Bo Win, who was in his 40s, was serving a five-year sentence on terror charges.
The deaths of Wai Yan Lwin and Zin Win Htut were reported by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners on July 19. Wai Yan Lwin had been sentenced to a total of 56 years in prison on a number of terror-related charges, while Zin Win Htut was serving a total of 15 years for similar offences.
A close relative of Zin Win Htut told Myanmar Now that his family was notified of his death on July 18. A letter delivered to his family home in Mandalay Region’s Myingyan Township by a junta administrator said that he was shot dead by security forces for the same reason as the other Daik-U Prison inmates.
The relative said that the last time the family had received news about his situation was on June 24. He was a former vice-chair of the Myingyan University Student Union and a leading member of the Myingyan People’s Strike Committee after the coup. He was captured in Bago along with Pyae Phyo Aung and other student activists in December 2021. He was initially held in Bago Prison, but later transferred to Daik-U Prison, where he was once put in solitary confinement for a month.
The relative also expressed scepticism about the circumstance of his death and that of the others who died on June 27.
“He was being transferred to Thayarwaddy Prison while some of the others from Daik-U were being sent to Insein Prison, but they all ended up in an accident like this?” the relative asked with disbelief.
The two detainees who remain unaccounted for since June 27 are Aung Thura Hlaing and Min Bhone Mahar. Aung Thura Hlaing was arrested in October 2021 in the city of Bago, where he was found to be in possession of several handmade weapons and explosive devices. According to a relative, he was serving a 41-year sentence handed down by a regime court.
Min Bhone Mahar was charged together with Khant Lin Naing, Pyae Phyo Aung, Aung Myo Thu, and Wai Yan Lwin for their alleged involvement in guerrilla activities in Bago. At the time of their arrest in late 2021, they and six other individuals were identified by the junta as members of the Bago PDF under the command of Zay Latt, a lawmaker from the ousted ruling party, the National League for Democracy.
Min Bhone Mahar was also a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, of which Khant Lin Naing was the vice chair for Bago District. He and Pyae Phyo Aung were arrested at a hostel in the city of Bago in December 2021, a week after Wai Yan Lwin and Aung Myo Thu were captured together in Ayeyarwady Region’s Hinthada Township.
The families of the missing prisoners have gone to Insein and Thayarwaddy prisons to inquire about them, but have so far received no information about their situation.
‘They must be repaid’
The Bago PDF has carried out a number of major attacks against regime forces. In January, about six months before the Daik-U prisoners were killed, PDF Battalion 3501, overseen by the Bago PDF, ambushed a vehicle south of Naypyitaw on the highway between Yangon and Mandalay, killing military intelligence officers Maj Than Htut and Sgt Myint Aung.
Than Htut reportedly played a significant role in the operation of interrogation centers in Yangon, and both he and Myint Aung were responsible for the arrests of a number of urban guerrilla force members in the city, who they identified through their undercover work.
Earlier this month, members of the same battalion planted a landmine targeting a convoy believed to be carrying a high-ranking military supply officer on the Yangon-Mandalay highway. The Bago PDF claimed that it had intelligence that the convoy would be carrying the junta’s quartermaster general, Lt-Gen Kyaw Swar Lin. At least two of the vehicles in the convoy were destroyed by the landmine, but it hasn’t been confirmed if Kyaw Swar Lin was riding in one of them.
The possibility that the junta murdered the political prisoners who had ties to the Bago PDF in retaliation for these attacks cannot be ruled out. Due to fear of the junta’s reprisals for speaking to media, none of the families of the deceased would comment on the murders or disappearances of their loved ones to Myanmar Now. However, Bago PDF spokesman Kyaw Kyaw warned that his group would seek revenge for murder of his comrades.
“I want to send a message to the military council that they must be repaid for their actions,” he said.
Source – Myanmar Now