Blasts and gunfire have been noisy at the parcel reception counter of Insein Prison, Yangon. As the time is around 10 a.m. on October 19, 2022, many people will deliver parcels for the prisoners, and some are there for the court hearing.
When the parcel drop-off center was blasted at first and people from that room ran away in disorder, prison staff fired recklessly, and another bomb went off too. So, the whole area was covered with the sound of shootings and explosions.
The coup group said in their report that five civilians were dead and 13 were wounded in the explosion. Most of the people killed in the incident were mothers.
Among the dead, it was included the mother of Ko Lin Htet Naing (a) James, a former student leader and activist, and the mother of Ko Hein Min Htet, a student union member.
By looking at this, the actions of the mothers who died in the explosion prove how much they have been sacrificing for their children, who are imprisoned because of politics.
Among them is 54-year-old Daw Gyi Myint (a) Mother Kyi, the mother of James, a former student leader of All Burma Federation of Student Unions also lost her life. She is the one who tried her best not only for her son who is in prison but also tried hard for the return of her grandson.
When James was on the run because he was being chased for taking part in the opposition to the military dictatorship. Then, Ko James and a 2-year-old child were arrested but lucky that her younger grandson and daughter-in-law escaped.
Despite the fact that her daughter-in-law was working to have her elder grandson released, Mother Kyi went to the police station and other places to try to get them released for the entire 72-hour period.
On the other hand, there is a message that the army said they will set free the kid after Ma Phyo Phyo Aung, who is James’s wife and a former student leader, has to come and let them be detained.
“She then attempted to free her grandson with heart and soul without taking into account her son’s detention,” said one of James’ family members.
Later, because of Mother Kyi’s efforts, her grandson was released.
Mother Kyi’s life did not end well, and she had to struggle as a single mother.
She divorced when she was young, but she raised her two sons to a decent standard of living by selling snacks at the head of her ward and doing her best to support their education.
“James’ mother suffered a lot of hardship throughout her life. “Even now, she still has to try to make ends meet,” said one family member.
If the rich are not always willing to send parcels to the prisoners, it can be even harder for the poor to do so. At least there will be travel expenses. She sends the parcels which include spoons, cups, soap, shampoo, instant noodles, some regular taking medicines, fish and meat, and other items.
Not only that, such as coffee and cheroots for men as well as pickle snacks, roasted sunflower seeds, underwear, and sanitary napkins for women have to be bought for the whole month, it can cost over 300,000 MMK per month at the current price.
For those expenses, mothers kyi have to sell her jewelry or pawn their belongings or spend their savings money to send parcels for the prisoners. Some mothers have to sell their real estate to deliver parcels for their children in prison too.
Due to the Spring Revolution lasting a bit and sky-rocketing commodity prices, some families of political prisoners transferred to remote prisons could not send parcels.
James’ mother, Daw Kyi, tends to sell morning snacks at the head of the ward to send parcels to her son.
No matter wherever her son had been transferred, she followed him to the prison to deliver parcels. In 2016, James had been transferred from Insein Prison to Taungoo Prison, yet she went there and sent parcel boxes every week despite her poor health.
She sent parcels not only to her son but also to the friends of her son.
Those who send parcel boxes to their children are mostly mothers. Moreover, the mothers of the prisoners are friendly and helpful to each other as they see one another very frequently at the time of sending parcels, and they also usually provide necessary parcels whether their son does so or not.
If some mothers are not able to send parcels as a consequence of business or social affairs, mothers who are able to send parcels tend to share their stuff with others—it is a sort of mother’s loving-kindness.
That’s why, whose mother is not the problem, they think whoever comes to send parcels is their mother. Likewise, while sending parcels to prisons, Mother Kyi had become a political prisoner’s mother as well.
Ko Siythu Maung, a former parliamentarian of Pan Pe Dan, posted on social media, “She is all of our mother rather than James’ mom.” He referred to Mother Kyi, who had to wait in line in front of the prison gate holding small parcels from 2007 to the present.
Mother Kyi has two sons, one of whom is James, whose loving-kindness is extraordinary between mother and son. James has been raised without a father since his childhood. His younger brother is roughly 10 years younger, so his mother is the most reliable person in his life.
Her son, who is more aware of others’ wishes than his own and is much loved, mentioned her loving kindness to him in a social media post.
“I wish you the best, Mom.” My mom sent me to the university by selling snacks on the roadside. When I changed my university to a life university (prison), she sold snacks to send parcels for me. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything from my previous life as a street hawker. Just now I am one of the fugitives stepping on the edge of the prison gate, so I would like to pray for my mom to be in good health these days.” These words are a depiction of her love for her son.
James first joined the political movement in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and then he was imprisoned four times in total: in 2008, 2016, 2020, and the present.
During his prison transfer period from Insein Prison to Taungoo Prison in 2016, he lost his last chance of seeing his father, as he was dead then.
And now, he requested respective officials for his final pay homage to his mother’s funeral, however, the junta refused him due to security concerns, so James did not have the opportunity to see his mother as the last time, nor was he allowed to say goodbye to his beloved mother.
Besides James’s mother, who passed away in the Insein Prison bomb blast, the mother of Ko Hein Min Htet, who was harshly cracked down on and arrested in the demonstration of Kyee-Myint-Dine, Pan Pin Gyi Street, by the junta, was also killed in the incident.
Ko Hein Min Htet was currently being prosecuted under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Due to the explosion, 7 prisons, namely Insein Prison, Pyi Prison, Thayarwaddy Prison, O-Bho Prison, Taungoo Prison, Thayet Prison, and Bago Prison, were not allowed to send parcels; in addition, ongoing trials by Special Courts and ordinary Courts will be halted, said a lawyer whose name is not revealed because of his security concerns.
The food in prison, including Insein Prison, is not hygienic, and the meal is just like animal food, so inmates have to rely on bi-weekly parcels and food sent by their families.
“That is why the closure of parcels received from families makes it difficult for cellmates to obtain food. Then they will have to follow more restrictions inside the prison. Moreover, they may suffer from cruel torture,” Ma Ei Ei Moe, general secretary of Generation Wave, pointed out.
She was released after spending seven months in the prison for her involvement in anti-coup strikes.
Daw Shwe Lay, a mother who was injured by bomb blasts while delivering parcels and food to Insein prison, is also concerned about her four family members who are incarcerated as a result of the suspension of parcel delivery to prisoners.
“As the food and parcels are not allowed to send, Htet Htet can’t eat spicy food because she has a stomachache problem. And since she can’t have coffee, we always send milk and Ovaltine to her instead of coffee. But, when we are not able to send parcels and food, it will be a really hard situation for her,” she whimpered with heartfelt sadness.
Ma Htet Htet is a journalist and as well as the founder of a Media Company called Thingangyun Media. Following the military coup, the couple was arrested under an act of explosive regulation.
Among Daw Shwe Lay’s four children, the eldest daughter has been imprisoned in Thayarwaddy Prison, while the younger daughter, her son-in-law, and 19-year-old grandson are imprisoned in Insein Prison on political charges.
In fact, Daw Shwe Lay’s older daughter was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of having two tanks of gasoline at home and the wholesale distribution of gasoline throughout the country. Her grandson is a gym coach in Taunggyi.
He returned to Yangon after the shop closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her grandson went out to see his friend that day, and while he was waiting at the bus stop, he was arrested with demonstrators running away from the crackdown of the Junta, though he was not involved in the strike.
However, they charged him as a leader of the demonstration, so he was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment.
“When will justice prevails?” We felt deeply sorry for him as he was accused of irreverent charges. In my heart, my worries for them are just like a great fire inside. I was always worried for them,” Daw Shwe Lay said of her children who were imprisoned.
Daw Shwe Lay, opened a Burmese meal shop to fulfill her needs, but could not open her shop when her children were imprisoned, and her home was frequently surrounded by the army, so she had to run away to a safer place.
“Losing a business is as bad for me as being homeless. As I try to dispatch food and necessities for them, all of my furniture has gone and nothing is left. All my belongings are sold out to deliver food and parcels for them,” she added.
At the current rental place, she has been running a small meal shop for her family’s livelihood. She has a meager income from the shop, so she has to deliver parcels for her children with the support of relatives and some individual donation.
In the midst of the family’s hardship, Daw Shwe Lay has been trying to send parcels and the basic needed things to her imprisoned family members without fail, yet she wishes them to feel encouraged and meet convenient for their eating.
She seems concerned about the inconvenience of food due to blocking sending parcels to her children.
“I’m at a loss for how much I worry for them. If I have the chance to send packages, I can cook something for them. But now when I don’t send parcels, they will be very hard to find. Thinking of them, I feel sorry for them and cannot sleep at night,” she said.
Ma Ei Ei Moe from Generation Wave said that the closure of necessities delivered to inmates means a breach of prisoners’ mental and physical conditions, and as a result, their health status may have deteriorated.
The Special Task Agency of Burma (STA) issued a statement saying that when the bomb went off on October 19, the head of the Insein Central Prison was targeted and executed with two explosive attacks.
STA is a group of urban warriors who are waging a final battle to root out the military dictator. They also said that their group will continue to carry out activities that will kill and destroy the strongholds of the junta group, along with the terrorist army and its lackeys.
“From the point of view of the revolution or for the comrades in prison, it is so hard to accept who has done it or why they have done it (bomb blasting),” she added.
She also pointed out that those who are unjustly arrested have suffered and died and they do not know what will happen to them. And, if offering any support for those who are in the prison, it should be noticed that those prisoners become as victims that could not even have a chance to take any action back to the authorities must be prioritized.
“When we work for our comrades in prison, they are in the condition of victims in the hands of the enemy. They could not have the chance to respond. As the comrades are victims of situations inside the prison, they should think deeply for the prisoners,” she added.
Urban guerrilla groups fighting against the military regime have protested the attack and called for accountability for the civilian casualties.
On the same day, the National Unity Government announced that any organizations or individuals who committed any actions that harmed the civilian population would face legal consequences.
According to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners (AAPP), on October 19, 2022, more than 12,700 people had been detained over 20 months after the coup.
Therefore, Daw Shwe Lay said that she is praying for the release of all political prisoners, including her children, as soon as possible and is looking forward to the time when her children will be released.
“Listening to the news, the time is near for my children to escape.” It’s so close. Like that, I have to encourage myself.”