Aung San Suu Kyi ‘calm’ despite prison hardships, inside sources say

A protester holds Aung San Suu Kyi’s portrait in Bangkok, Thailand, on July 26, following news of the execution of four political prisoners by the Myanmar junta (EPA)
A protester holds Aung San Suu Kyi’s portrait in Bangkok, Thailand, on July 26, following news of the execution of four political prisoners by the Myanmar junta (EPA)

The junta’s transfer of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to Naypyitaw Detention Centre last month has been accompanied by a tightening of security evident both within and outside the walls of the closed compound, according to two lawyers who regularly visit the military capital’s jail.

Troop presence in the area has reportedly increased since July 23, one day after 77-year-old Suu Kyi was moved to the Zabuthiri Township site from an undisclosed location where she had been held since the February 2021 coup attempted to depose her elected government.

Two defence lawyers told Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity that they travelled to the detention centre at least three times a week to meet with clients detained there. Since Suu Kyi’s transfer, they have noticed soldiers regularly stationed along the Naypyitaw Myopat Road—known locally as the B4—which leads to the site.

“Soldiers guard the outside of the detention centre and the police officers, the inside. There are also personnel from military intelligence,” one of the attorneys said.

He claimed that he had been warned by a taxi driver that snipers had been deployed along the B4 and that cars were discouraged from stopping on the motorway.

Members of the public gather outside Naypyitaw Detention Centre in February 2021 (Myanmar Now)

The second lawyer pointed out that two restaurants located just outside the jail had been demolished—presumably by the army—making it difficult for passersby or the few permitted visitors to the jail to linger in the surrounding area.

Inside the compound, both men said that bunkers appeared to have been recently constructed and were manned by additional troops. They stated that at least one such post was located strategically near the building designated as the closed court for Suu Kyi’s trial.

The 30-square-foot “courthouse,” located at the top of a hill some 200 metres from a bunker, once served as the jail’s guesthouse. Now it reportedly hosts hearings in cases involving the State Counsellor’s 19 criminal charges, six of which have already resulted in convictions accompanied by an 11-year prison term.

A satellite image of Naypyitaw Detention Centre (Google Earth)

It is believed that detained President Win Myint is also being tried at the site, which the junta has taken effort to conceal from potential onlookers.

“The building is surrounded by a seven-foot-tall fence and they also covered the room’s windows with the type of green plastic sheets used at construction sites,” the first lawyer said.

At least four times a week, Suu Kyi is escorted from her cell inside the compound to the court in a black Mercedes car, he added.

While it is not known exactly where the State Counsellor is being held, the lawyer recounted descriptions provided to him by court personnel who had seen the site, characterising it as a 13-by-14-foot building on a fenced plot of land within the jail walls, and exposed to the elements.

“There are so many mosquitoes in the jail compound and it’s very hot all the time. When there is heavy rain, it also gets into her room,” he said.

Another source familiar with conditions in the detention centre told Myanmar Now that Suu Kyi’s room had six windows covered only by iron bars, half of which were not shielded by curtains.

The individual said that while the National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader did not complain about the conditions, it was  known that she was having additional difficulties adjusting to the prison’s diet.

She has also reportedly been barred from listening to the radio, a permission which she had been granted during the many years she spent under house arrest enforced by the military.

Aung San Suu Kyi pictured with military chief Min Aung Hlaing at Myanmar’s Independence Day ceremony in Naypyitaw in January 2021, less than one month before the coup (Myanmar President’s Office)

According to the BBC’s Burmese service, the military council arranged for Suu Kyi to have three attending female prison staff and access to a doctor while she is incarcerated in Naypyitaw.

Myanmar Now is unable to independently verify the various accounts describing the conditions in which the State Counsellor is detained.

At the time of reporting, Suu Kyi had not relayed a statement through her lawyers—who have been barred by the junta from publicly speaking about her case—in response to the execution of four political prisoners last month, including renowned pro-democracy activist Ko Jimmy (Kyaw Min Yu) and NLD parliamentarian Phyo Zayar Thaw, who was also a personal friend of the detained leader.

The lawyer who spoke with Myanmar Now said he had been told that Suu Kyi was “deeply upset by the news” of their deaths.

Regarding her own imprisonment, he described her as having remained “extraordinarily calm.”

“I’m astounded by how she has managed to maintain her positivity, even now,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *