Prison authorities withhold body of political prisoner who died in custody in Thayarwaddy

Acquaintances questioned the prison authorities’ claim that the 25-year-old died of pneumonia and their reasons for failing to return his body to relatives

Thayarwaddy Prison authorities have not given the body of a political prisoner to his family after telling them he died of pneumonia last week, leaving the true cause of death in doubt.

The deceased was 25-year-old Pyae Phyo Win, also known as Me Gyi, who was serving a seven-year sentence at the prison, located in Bago Region, for incitement under Section 505a of the Myanmar Penal Code and arson under Section 436. He reportedly died at around 3pm on May 21.

Pyae Phyo Win was arrested during the protests in February 2021 and was handed his sentence by a military court in South Dagon Township, Yangon. He was initially sent to Yangon’s Insein Prison but transferred to Thayarwaddy Prison in January of this year.

“[A comrade] in prison sent a letter with the news about him. The prison authorities also contacted his family on the same day the letter was received,” said Nyo Tun, a friend of Pyae Phyo Win.

Nyo Tun was also imprisoned for taking part in the protests but later received a pardon. Pyae Phyo Win and Nyo Tun had been held in the same ward at Insein Prison for a year before the former’s transfer to Thayarwaddy.

Two other sources close to the Thayarwaddy prison community confirmed authorities had not returned Pyae Phyo Win’s body to his family but told them he had died of pneumonia.

Another ex-political prisoner once held at Thayarwaddy, who requested anonymity, said Pyae Phyo Win was “very fit and active” and took care of his health, and that he had never known him to have problems with his lungs.

“We just saw him two weeks ago and he was looking healthy and fit despite the prison authorities saying he died of pneumonia. It’s impossible that he died of the disease within two weeks. They could just return the body to the family if they had no part in his death,” he said.

Nyo Tun also gave an opinion as to the real cause of his friend’s death.

“We are assuming that they took it too far during interrogation, which is not uncommon. I’ve heard prison authorities say that all it takes to kill someone is a pen and a paper,” Nyo Tun said.

Authorities removed a group of political prisoners from their cells for unknown reasons last week at Daik-U Prison, also located in Bago Region. According to a statement by the Bago Township People’s Defence Team, one of their former recruitment officers was among the Daik-U prisoners and died at the hands of the authorities on Friday.

The same week, inmates initiated a hunger strike at Mandalay Region’s Myingyan Prison in response to authorities’ separation of 15 political prisoners, one of whom later reportedly died from beatings.

Myanmar Now News