Workers and political prisoners not safe in Myanmar, say union representatives

Garment workers are facing an intensely repressive period with increased restrictions on their mobilization. Meanwhile, even lawyers representing political prisoners are being detained by the junta in Myanmar

July 20, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Myanmar workers and political prisoners
(Photo: EPA)

There seems to be no end in sight to the political conflict and repression in Myanmar since the military coup in February last year. In addition to the continuation of armed confrontation between the military and resistance forces, the coup-installed government has carried out fierce repression against workers fighting for their rights as well as human rights defenders.

Since the coup, an estimated 42 lawyers, many of whom have taken on cases of anti-coup protesters, have been detained by the authorities. According to human rights groups, at least 30 still remain behind bars and many have been charged with incitement or terrorism. The direct targeting of lawyers has had a chilling effect and heightened the sense of fear and anxiety in the country.

Casualties are being reported from both the military and anti-coup fighters on an almost daily basis. On July 14, Irrawaddy reported that at least 30 soldiers were killed in Sagaing’s Kale township during last week’s violent clashes with the People Defense Force and an ethnic Chin resistance group.

Plight of political prisoners

A large number of political prisoners remain imprisoned across several notorious detention centers in the country. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) estimates that nearly 11,700 people have been imprisoned for opposing the military coup. Of the total detained, at least 1,212 have received prison sentences. 

Reports indicate that prisoners face ill-treatment from the authorities, including beatings. Two prisoners died inside the Obo Prison in June after being severely beating.  Myanmar Now reported that several prisoners were beaten and taken into solitary confinement in the same prison in July for commemorating one of the key events of the pro-democracy movement. 

Prison authorities were also reportedly involved in beating up 10 prisoners in Yangon’s Insein Prison on June 14. Over 60 political prisoners in the Hpan-an Prison were brutally beaten up for singing the anti-regime song (Tway Thit Sar) in May, according to reports. As per AAPP, at least 103 people have died in custody.

Since February 2021, after taking over control, the junta forces have reportedly killed over 5,000 civilians including pregnant women, disabled people, and minors. Activist groups and international human rights organizations have accused the military regime of war crimes, intentionally torching a large number of houses in Karenni and Chin States, mass arrests, and torture.

Repression of workers

The junta has also outlawed at least 16 labor organizations and a number of union members and leaders have been charged with incitement. This is as workers face the most repressive period in their history with intensified restrictions imposed on their mobilization and expression inside and outside of the work place, according to a 25-year-old factory worker at last week’s protest against wage exploitation in Yangon’s Zaykabar Industrial Park. 

Ye Naing Win, secretary general of the Coordination Committee of Trade Unions, claimed on July 5 that workers are no longer safe in Myanmar, most of them are also too broke to buy food: “If tens of thousands of workers are starving, they will go out on the streets to protest, without anyone even rallying them.”

Amid the current political situation, some foreign employers have taken to exploitation of workers by firing hundreds of permanent employees and rehiring them on wages that allow companies to make large profits, said Win