Friday, September 2, 2011

Wardog Block of Insein Prison (1)

(Direct translation of web article “Wardog Block (a) Hongkong” by Ye Min Tun.)

If I had to write about my life I couldn’t leave out the Wardog Block (Sit-khway Daik) in Insein Prison. Wardog Block is the punishment cells inside the notorious gaol. The prisoners called the notorious block Hongkong. Some even died in Hongkong. 

During the Superintendent Sein Htay’s reign, according to the spoken history of Insein Prison, he himself bashed some inmates to death there.

The Wardog Block was just next to the Special Block where NLD Vice Chairman General Tin Oo, famous student leader Min Ko Naing, and late North Korean Assassin Kang Min-chul were kept. It was on the right side of the roadway to main workshops.

The Wardog compound had its own small gate. Inside, just behind the block of cages for the prison war-dogs and on the left side of the open space for the war-dog training ground, was the ten cells block of punishment jail. So it was called the Wardog Block. The whole Wardog compound was between the main wall and the inner wall of the double-walled Insein Prison on the outskirt of Rangoon.

The punishment block backed onto the prison inner wall. And its side walls and the room dividers were ten-foot-high short brick walls. I will describe what a prisoner would face in the Wardog block basing on my two stays there in 1992 and 1993. But I would like to explain a bit more about the special punishment dished out to the prisoners of the Wardog block first.

Main-jail Road and the Crocodile Lane

Main Gate of Insein Prison in Rangoon.
To get to the Wardog Block from the Main-jail offices at the central tower one had to take the notorious Crocodile Lane. Main-jail was staffed by the Duty-warden, a junior warden, and a few prison corporals.

Usually the main-jail corporals were more powerful than the prison sergeants running various cell blocks. The reason was the main-jail staff could easily stop the illegal stuff being smuggled into the prison and give serious trouble to the prison staff controlling the cell blocks.

The wide road from the main prison gate at the outer wall to the main-jail tower at the centre of the prison was paved with broken pieces of red bricks and it constantly required compacting by a couple of heavy-iron-roller pushed manually by either one or two prisoners at a time.

That road basically was paved with the countless drops of blood and sweat of tortured prisoners. To rolling-compact the broken-brick-road either one or two inmates had to push the heavy-iron-roller heated by the midday sun with their bare hands. To make the experience most unbearable the pushing prisoners were shackled in leg-irons.


The bigger one of two rollers was called Chitkoko (Loving-brother) normally to be pushed by two inmates and the smaller one was called Chitmama (Loving-sister) normally pushed by an inmate. Because of the hot midday sun the iron roller was untouchably hot and the surface heat peeled the skin. And blood flowed out off the prisoners’ hands. 

Because of the leg irons and the linking iron rod between two leg irons the prisoner had to walk like a crab. Also there was always one prison warder either a corporal or lance-corporal armed with hard rubber truncheon called gun-pipe following from behind and beating the pushing prisoner constantly so that he wouldn’t go slack in pushing the hot and heavy roller.

The relentless beating was going on under the watching eyes of the duty-warden on the Main-jail tower and the gun-pipe warder had to show his brutal ruthlessness on the prisoner so that he himself wouldn’t get a punishment from the duty-warden.

Only when the Duty-warden was fully satisfied the inmate being punished was allowed to crawl back from the Main Jail to the cells at the Wardog Block. On foot the trip on the brick lane would be about five six minutes, but the poor prisoner had to crawl on the rough edges of the lane not the compacted middle.

And he was not allowed to use his foot to propel himself forward. He had to use only his elbows to pull his full bodyweight forward on the jagged edges of the broken bricks. Blood flowed from his elbows while the warder following him was constantly beating him on his back and buttocks and legs with the gun-pipe.

The readers would now be thinking I was exaggerating about my own experience there but I was not and my main purpose was to let the people know how brutal the punishments in the Wardog block were not just for us political prisoner but even for the hardcore criminals doing time in Insein.

My First Day in the Wardog Block

Massive Insein Prison in Rangoon.
It was one Friday in 1992. I couldn’t remember the exact date now though I tried real hard to remember that date.  And what happened to us that day basically stirred up all the political prisoners in our cell block of the Insein Prison.

I was in the Block-3 and one of my friends there was Win Thura Kwye (a) Nagarlay and he had a visitor that day. So I gave him a secret letter to be sent through his visitor. We were so worried that he would be caught with the letter at the inspection. But after a thorough search of his body and even inside his open mouth at the Main Jail he passed inspection.

While we were waiting for his return the emergency sirens came on and every prisoner had to stand attention at wherever he was at that time. Then a warder came and called out my name and I was forced to follow him to the Main Jail tower. I knew by then that a serious trouble had started as I saw the infamous Sergeant Kyaw Win waiting for me there.

He pushed me inside the area underneath the Main Jail Tower (which used to be a large kitchen during the British era) and forced me to hang onto a large beam which was beyond my reach and I had to jump to get a hold on the beam. The timber beam was huge and I had small hands and thus I could grip only the beam edge. Finally my hands shook and I fell on the ground as my stressed hands couldn’t carry my body weight and hang onto the beam.

Sergeant Kyaw Win (we called him Chinese Kyae Win) kicked me with his army boot and forced me to hang onto the beam again. While hanging onto the beam I was trying to figure out what exactly had happened to my friend Nagarlay who was now being beaten up by Sergeant Kyaw Win just outside the Tower.


Kyaw Win was alternatively coming inside to kick me and then going outside and bashing up   Nagarlay and interrogating him for a while. The inmates working inside were looking out for Kyaw Win while he was outside and so I could let myself down and when they said Kyaw Win was coming back inside I had to jump back onto the beam.

Then my friend Gar Gar Lay who was jailed for killing people during the 8-8-88 Uprising walked past me and whispered, “You guys are dead. They caught Nagarlay with a letter.”

Finally Kyaw Win took me out and forced me to squat in front of the Main Jail Office and interrogated me. Nagarlay was also forced to squat beside me.

“Hey bastard, do you know him?” asked Sergeant Kyaw Win pointing at Nagarlay.
“Yes Sir, I do know him.”

As I answered I managed to tilt my head a bit to look at severely-beaten Nagarlay , but I got whacked on my back with a gun-pipe by another warder named Htun Kyi who was later promoted to a lance corporal for he a small man was most brutal and bad-mouthed warder in the whole Prison.

“Do you know what we caught from him?” Sergeant Kyaw Win questioned me again.

I already had plenty of experiences of getting interrogated and I was already thinking that since they had already caught the letter on Nagalay and instead of getting whacked more I should just admit to save my skin.

So I answered, “Yes Sir, the letter I wrote.”

Burmese Leg Irons.
But my honest answer got us into more trouble as the letter caught on Nagarlay was from outside and not my letter which was undiscovered and already got away with Nagarlay’s visitor. So they separated us and beat me up in front of the Block-1 and Nagarlay the Block-2.

They bashed me up so bad I kept on fainting and they had to keep on pouring buckets of water over me to come to and beat me up more and more again. Then suddenly all the sirens came on and the whole Insein prison was sealed and put into locked-down.


What I’d been told later was that Maung Maung Lwin from RIT and now a political prisoner in the Block-5 was really upset by seeing me beaten up brutally on the road and he tried to stir up the prisoners to protest as he loved me and took care of me like his own kid brother.

I first met him on August 10, 1988 while we were fleeing from the army shootings the protesters on the Stockade Hill (Thein-byu-kone) in Mingala-taung-nyunt. And we were in the later public protests together.

Then because of all the arrests after the Yankin Moegaung Pagoda demonstration on March 27, 1989 he and I fled together to Thailand. But he was also arrested on his way back to Burma and we were charged and imprisoned together. In his eyes I was just a child as when we first met I was only sixteen.

That day he thus  tried to stir up the prisoners to protest once he saw I was brutally beaten up on the road. But the prison authorities realized the trouble brewing and immediately locked-down the whole Insein Prison.

At the same time my old father was waiting outside to see me on a rarely-allowed prison visit. They didn’t let him in but took the food parcel for me from him. But the bastards took all the food packages for themselves and later I had to sign for the empty container as if I did receive the food parcel.

Only after they both were satisfied bashing me warder Htun Kyi took me to the inmate-office to put me and Nagarlay in the leg-shackles. In Insein the prison-shackles are a pair of metal rings connected not by a chain link but by a metal rod and fastened to the prisoner’s ankles.


Just beside the inmate-office was where the shackles were fastened to our legs. The mini-blacksmith shop was there and the sympathetic inmate-in-charge told the shackling-inmate to pick old shackle rings for us.

Normally the new shackle rings just out of the blacksmith shop had on the inside many sharp and jagged edges that could painfully cut into the wearer’s ankles. But the old worn ones always had smooth inside edges as it was polished constantly by the wearers’ ankles.

The inmate who was to permanently rivet the shackle rings with a hammer picked smoothly-polished rings and started putting them on me first. He finished one side and then working on the other side and suddenly Htun Kyi realized what was going on. He forced the shackling inmate to stand up and hit him on the face real hard.

“Son of a bitch, are these bastards your mother-fuckers? Use the new rings just come out of the shop, fuck you!”

The ring had a small gap between two ends and to fasten on our legs first the shackler had to pull the ends away from each other so that gap became large enough to painfully squeeze the leg in. After that the ends were pushed back in so that the end-holes were aligned. Only then the shackler had to push the small rivet through the holes and put the ring end on the anvil and hit the top with a 3 pound hammer to permanently close the ring.

Wardog Crawl.
One could easily imagine how dangerous the shackling process was. There were horror stories floating round the prison of leg-broken inmates because of the accidental and intentional hammer hits during their shackling process.

The unfortunate shackler was horribly shaken and thus his unsteady hammering hand ended up slipping off and his heavy hammer hitting my ankles more than twice and hurt me like hell.

The rings themselves were the extortion instruments as the inmates had to bribe the warders so that they would get old worn-out rings instead of brand-new rings with sharp inside edges. The inside edges were supposed to be filed before use but the corrupt prison warders had chosen to use legs of poor inmates as the files instead of real carbon-steel files.


After our ankles were fastened with the brand new shackles one-and-half foot (18 inches) rod for Nagarlay and two foot (24 inches) rod for me were also fixed as the links between tow rings. With a normal link-chain at least a shackled inmate could walk nearly-normal but with a link-rod the inmate had to move like a crab.

Wardog Squat.
Because of that link-rod both walking and sleeping were extremely difficult. And since the inmate was not able to close his legs together and forced to keep the legs apart all the time the constant pain at the groin was unbearable. Any inmate in the Wardog Block could eventually be paralyzed below their waists if he stayed there long enough. Some even died there.

Once we both were shackled and rod-linked we were to walk back to the Main Jail Tower to be registered as punished-prisoners. But we were not allowed to walk back. Instead Htun Kyi barked out an order.

“You two run ahead of me. I’ll count one to ten and once finished counting I’m gonna chase you two. If I catch up, you bastards will really get hurt. Now start running!”

He then loudly hit the hard ground with the longer gun-pipe now in his right hand.


By then we were utterly exhausted and my whole boy also was in unbearable pain and we didn’t even have enough strength left to argue with him or even think. So we started running while he was counting one two three four. Soon we both fell down because of the shackles and the link-rods between our ankles. We immediately got up and ran again, but Htun Kyi caught up with us and gave us a thorough beating.

Blood covered our lower legs and our sarongs were torn off from so many places as we fell and got up and got beaten up again and again all the way to the Main Jail. There the Duty-Warden checked our shackles and forced us to squat for a while. There were a few inmates working there and their faces were clearly showing deep sympathy towards me and Nagarlay.

We were then forced to crawl on the jagged edges of the brick road to the Wardog Block. Htun Kyi and one other warder followed us and kept on beating us on our backs and legs with their long gun-pipes. Finally we reached the gate of the Wardog Block.

A Burmese Wardog.
Sergant Khin Maung the in-charge of Wardog Block came out and received us there and led us walking to the Wardog Office. There he showed us how to squat Wardog way. Normally that was the time and place for customary, brutal bashing as a welcome greeting to the Wardog.

But we were so damaged from all the beatings even the ruthless Wardog warders were scared to beat us more as they knew it could have killed us easily. We could even hear the chief warder Sergeant Khin Maung warning his warders.

“Hey men, put the bastards away in the cells, quick. Don’t beat them up no more. Otherwise others’ problem will become our trouble. Call the doctor tomorrow to see them too. If they die on our hands we’ll be fucked!”

They quickly put me in the Cell-4 or Cell-5 I do not remember now and Nagarlay in the Cell-8. I quickly collapsed onto the bare floor and immediately the coldness of the concrete floor and unbearable pain all over my tortured-body made me think I would die here tonight.


(Born in 1976 Ye Min Htun grew up in Rangoon and attended State-High-School N0-6 Bo-ta-htaung. As he wrote before his revolution began during the failed 8-8-88 Uprising right in front of City Hall in Rangoon. During that Uprising he was the messenger taking a letter from the Student Leader Min Ko Naing direct to the protesting people of Thaya-waddy Thone-ze area.

Later he was accused and blacklisted by SLORC military Government as the hijacker of a double-decker ship he used to transport bags of rice from the Delta Town of La-but-tar to Rangoon where the critical rice shortages were during the Uprising.

After March 27, 1989 Revolution Day Protest Marches he was one of the most wanted men by the MIS and he fled to the Thai Border with many other students. Preferring underground activities to the armed-rebellion he came back to Rangoon to distribute political leaflets.

He was captured by MIS Captain Htun Kyi on 17 April 1991 and jailed many years till 10 February 1997. In 1998 he fled Burma and finally ended in Malaysia and continued his political activities there. In 2009 he was granted political asylum in US.

He is now studying his favorite subject Political Science in the Michigan State University.)

Wardog Block of Insein Prison (2)