Myanmar: ‘You go or I’ll call the guards’ – visiting Mandalay Central Prison News
Myanmar: ‘You go or I’ll call the guards’ – visiting Mandalay Central Prison

JURIST EXCLUSIVE – A law student filing for JURIST in Myanmar was among a group of lawyers and law students who earlier this week went to deliver supplies to detainees held by authority of the military junta in Mandalay Central Prison (“Ohbo”). All are young people arrested after peaceful protests against the February 1 military coup. This is our correspondent’s report. To preserve voice, tone and accuracy, it has been minimally edited:

About 40 medium size plastic bags (filled with a thin blanket, noodles, coffee mix, plastic cups and plate) were prepared and put into car trunks. The name of prisoners and their fathers are written in each bag. There were three cars. Three of us have lawyer licenses. We got there at 11:30 but they say the visit hours are from 9 to 11 am and 1 to 3 pm. So, we wait while eating lunch. We went there at 1pm but they make us wait till 1:30pm. Then, they open the gate and let the cars in.

We’ve got phone call with a staff [member] to send the bags to prisoners. There was a more senior staff at the reception so our plan was not so smooth. We all wear black coats so we’re like a group of lawyers. At the gate, 3 classmates of our seniors joined. They come into the reception with us. One of that three carelessly took a photo of the gate when the noticeboards clearly said “NO photos”. They saw it and asked her to open her phone gallery. She had a bit of time to delete the pictures but we’ve lost their trust. The whole group seems suspicious to them, shouting at us “you educated people know how to read. The note clearly says no photo!”, and told us to leave the compound immediately. They say lawyers cannot send such things. Only family members can come. The lawyers can only come to get signature for power of attorney. So, one of us asked “how about people from far away like villages? And nothing in the law says so.” They said, “we don’t care, that’s how it is. Tell the family members to come. You go or I’ll call the guards.”

Arguing with them will make no good for us so we just left and discuss for a while to give all these things to them one way or another.

Some parents do not even know their children are in jail. Some are from villages and cannot afford to come by themselves. Rich and poor still creates quite a difference, even in jail.

We left the compound and stopped the cars near the residences where prison staffs live. Those three left then. A small mistake they’ve made outside creates a big impact for people inside. They almost got nothing.

We got connected with a friend of [redacted] and finally get to give them all the bags. But 40 bags is too much so we reduce the number of bags. They can share in the rooms. We gave them the list of people. They will bring the bags inside somehow but not from the front door. I heard coffee mix and cigarettes are like cash in prison like to use the toilet and bathroom longer.

[Some general observations…]

Firstly, they should not be in jail. They cannot get full help from their lawyers. Barely no contact. Their cases are heard on a video call with a judge. The judges will just label any section they want and arbitrarily decide someone’s future. They’re practicing law with dirty hands.

Secondly, it’s very sad for needy people. Rich people can live in comfort, even in jail. Does it mean all suffering should be just felt by the poor? Just a bad mood of the prison staff and a sudden change of law deprive the rights of a person/prisoner.

We did give them the bags but not sure if everything will be delivered to them fully.

Even as a complete stranger, I’m greatly worried about how they live, sleep or eat there. I heard the rice is very tough that most people can barely eat well. They’ll have to adjust themselves very hard. I also heard the water used in toilet and for drinking are the same. I wonder how they’ll kill the time there. Everything was not a pleasant sight. I’m very sad to see the name tags on the bags. All these kids must have been very adored by their parents.

I hope we can correct all these wrongs some day.

There’re still more people who don’t even have a lawyer to represent them. How are they going to live there?

It’s very distressing to witness with my bare eyes how little we can do in our power despite the legal knowledge we have. The rights of a human are written in paper, but are not alive in practice. It’s no surprise that Myanmar People have no trust in the judiciary at all. This is Failure of the Law. New people have to be smart and brave enough to change/save the whole system. Human values are not for sale.