Protest breaks out at prison in Myanmar's biggest city Yangon

A file photo taken on June 30 shows people waiting in front of Insein prison for the release of prisoners in Yangon.
A file photo taken on June 30 shows people waiting in front of Insein prison for the release of prisoners in Yangon.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (REUTERS) - A protest erupted at a prison in Myanmar's commercial capital of Yangon on Friday (July 23) against what activists said was a worsening Covid-19 outbreak at the jail, which is used to hold opponents of February's military takeover.

It was one of the first protests of its kind since the Feb 1 coup in the South-east Asian country, where people across the country demonstrate daily against military rule.

Protest chants in opposition to the ruling junta could be heard from inside the colonial-era Insein Prison early on Friday in videos recorded from outside the prison and posted by local residents to Facebook.

"End the dictatorship! Our cause! Protest, protest! Start, start! Revolution! Must prevail!" the call-and-response chant went.

The Thailand-based activist group, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said the protest began in the women's detention block and had been supported by some prison staff members. Reuters could not immediately verify the report.

"A riot happened in the prison," Myanmar Prison Department's deputy director Chan Nyein Kyaw told state-run news outlet Myawaddy. "There was a negotiation and the prisoners' demands and requests were accepted."

AAPP said the military had entered the prison compound earlier on Friday and confiscated staff weapons.

Prison spokesman Zaw Zaw did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment on Friday about the protest and the report that the military had intervened. He told local media the protest had been brought under control. Calls to junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun went unanswered.

Diplomats called for an end to the standoff.

"We urge the relevant authorities to resolve the situation peacefully and respect the basic right to proper healthcare for all those detained inside this and other prisons," a group of diplomatic missions including Australia, Canada, Britain, the United States and nine European Union member states said in a joint statement posted on Facebook.

Earlier this month, Myanmar freed more than 2,000 detainees from the prison, among them journalists and others who the ruling military said had been held on incitement charges for taking part in protests.

Myanmar's military has struggled to impose order and a growing Covid-19 outbreak has added to the chaos. Myanmar registered more than 6,000 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday after reporting 286 deaths a day earlier, both record highs.

Medics and funeral services say the real death toll is far higher, with crematoriums unable to keep pace, and the military has arrested several doctors treating Covid-19 patients independently.

"The protest reportedly began because prisoners have not been provided with medical care, and neither have prison staff been given protection from Covid-19," the AAPP statement said.

Mr Nyan Win, a senior adviser to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, died in hospital on Tuesday after becoming infected with Covid-19 in the prison.