Guards deny female inmates drinking water after protest in Myanmar’s Insein Prison

Authorities in Myanmar’s notorious Insein Prison have cut off the drinking water supply to the cells of female political prisoners who protested poor living conditions in the facility after a fellow inmate who was denied medical treatment suffered a miscarriage, sources said Friday.

Sources who visited the prison on the outskirts of Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon told RFA Burmese that dozens of prisoners have been forced to drink from the toilet after the taps were turned off more than two weeks ago, leaving them with no other source of water.

“The authorities cut off the drinking water since the protest,” said one recent visitor, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity.

“They put 60-70 female prisoners in one prison hall. I was told that all of them are now forced to drink water from the toilet.”

The source said that some of the prisoners have contracted cholera and other diseases after drinking the unclean water.

Last month, a 24-year-old political prisoner at Insein named Cherry Bo Kyi Naing, who is serving a three-year prison sentence for “unlawful association,” suffered an early-term miscarriage after authorities delayed sending her to the hospital for treatment.

On May 23, the female political prisoners held a protest, claiming that Cherry Bo Kyi Naing’s miscarriage was avoidable and the result of negligence by the guards. Two days later, prison authorities shut down the protest and relocated all the female political prisoners to the single prison hall, before shutting off the water supply.

When asked by RFA for comment on the situation at Insein, Prison Department spokesperson Khin Shwe denied reports that the women had been cut off access to drinking water.

“In Insein prison, we provide adequate water supplies for both drinking and hygiene,” he said.

“We don’t give such punishments for incidents that occur in the prison. We have no such thing.”

Attempts by RFA to reach the International Committee of the Red Cross in Bangkok, Thailand, went unanswered Friday. The Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) told RFA it is still making inquiries into the protest at Insein and the response by authorities and was unable to comment.

Kaythi Aye, a former political prisoner in Myanmar who now lives in Norway, told RFA that female prisoners require better hygiene conditions than their male counterparts, and access to clean water is crucial.

“Prisoners are in serious trouble when they don’t have access to clean water, especially during the monsoon season, when mosquitos proliferate and people suffer skin conditions,” she said.

“Wet conditions cause disease to spread further. It’s inhumane to cut off clean water for the female prisoners.”

According to the AAPP, security forces have arrested more than 11,000 civilians in Myanmar since the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup. There are nearly 1,200 female prisoners across the country, around 200 of which are held in Insein Prison.

Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.