[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Burma solidarity update
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Mon Jan 5 05:25:42 GMT 2009
"Strengthening Cooperation for a Free Burma"
January 4, 2009
Welcoming 2009: Vital Need for Solidarity
Dear colleagues and friends,
Burma Partnership wishes you all a happy new year! With plenty of
challenges ahead, we hope you will stay committed throughout this year
and join hands with us to ensure a brighter future for the people of Burma.
Today Burma celebrates the 61st anniversary of its independence from
Great Britain, but as we all know the people of Burma are far from free.
Burma’s military regime has heavily oppressed its people for decades and
the past year was no exception. However, the people’s defiance continues
as well. Just the other day, on December 30, nine NLD youth members
marched in a peaceful demonstration for the release of Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi. The police arrested all 9 of them – Ms. Htet Htet Oo Wai, Tun Tun
Win, Ye Ni, Win Myint, Kung Htet Hlaing, That Maung Htun, Pyi Pyi, Min
Thein and Aung Pyo Wai - in front of the Parliament building in Rangoon.
They were reportedly beaten in detention and taken to an unknown place.
In this first briefer of 2009, we want to draw special attention to the
situation of all those courageous individuals in Burma who are currently
paying a high price for standing up and defying injustice and oppression
imposed on the people by the SPDC. Burma’s political prisoners, their
families and lawyers have faced immensely hard times over the past year.
Despite devoted work of solidarity friends like you as well as numerous
statements and open letters by governments, parliamentarians and former
leaders around the world, the military regime in Burma has not yet
answered any calls for the release of the political prisoners. On the
contrary, over the last few months the generals have shown clearly that
they have no intention to be lenient on anyone who dares to speak up
The below examples show how the regime is using all means to suppress
anyone who dares to raise their voices or seek justice. The courageous
individuals in Burma who still dare to do so deserve constant attention
from the outside world. In the search for a remedy to the crisis in
Burma, we must not forget the situation of those who have been at the
forefront in the struggle for democratic change and freedom for the
We sincerely hope that you will continue to join us in stepping up our
efforts in this new year, to secure the release of all political
prisoners as a first step on a long road to national reconciliation and
democratic change in Burma. Let us work together to make sure that 2009
will be the year when the tide turns for the people of Burma.
Coordinator, Burma Partnership Secretariat
Lengthy sentences and horrific conditions for the political prisoners
As we have previously reported, over 200 political activists, youths,
monks, nuns, journalists and bloggers arrested in connection with last
year’s uprising, have been sentenced in prison trials since October
2008. The sentences are in many cases unbelievably hard, up to 68 years
or life in prison.
Apart from facing the injustice of being imprisoned for peaceful
activism, the political prisoners are also forced to cope with
unacceptably harsh prison conditions. There are always reasons to fear
for their physical and mental wellbeing. A telling and horrifying
example is the suicide of Maung San in Pegu Prison. According to the
Irrawaddy (Dec 24), sources say denial of medicines and the inability to
talk freely with family members were reasons behind the tragic suicide.
Another recent tragedy is the death of Htay Lwin Oo on 28 December 2008.
He died from tuberculosis in Mandalay prison and became the 138th
political prisoner to die in prison in Burma since 1988.
After receiving their sentences, many political prisoners were
transferred to different prisons in remote parts of the country far from
their families. As intended, the prison transfers have further isolated
the prisoners and constrained families from visiting. This is alarming
as the prisoners are often dependent on deliveries of food and medicines
from family members. When no one from the outside can regularly check
and report on deteriorating conditions of a prisoner, his or her fate is
left in the hands of the prison authorities, who are the ones denying
medical care in the first place.
Prominent’ ‘88 generation student leaders Min Ko Naing and Htay Kywe are
among those who have been especially treated harshly by the prison
authorities. Htay Kywe, held in Buthidaung Prison in Arakan State over
700 miles from Rangoon, has been physically and mentally tortured.
According to a prison staff, prison authorities have also been ordered
by higher authorities to keep him in solitary confinement on death row,
not to feed him regularly and not to let him take walks outside his
cell. Consequently he is in poor health and family members are very
worried. Min Ko Naing’s health has also deteriorated since his transfer
to Keng Tung prison in eastern Shan State. Similarly, he is confined to
his cell and has been deprived of daylight and possibilities to
exercise. Wife of Min Zeya, another leader of the ’88 generation
students group, gave an interview to Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) on
January 2. Cho Cho Win said that Min Zeya, held in Lasho prison in Shan
State, is suffering from recurrent pains from the spinal cord operation
he had to undergo in 2000 as a result of severe torture during his first
imprisonment in 1990s and is also denied to walk outside the confinement
cell. For more figures and details on the situation see attached
Chronology of Political Prisoners for December from Assistance
Association of Political Prisoners (Burma).
Restrictions on communication with families
The prison transfers have added pressure on the families of political
prisoners, both psychologically and financially. Not only do they have
to face the hardships of everyday life without their loved ones, now
they must also try to find money and time for several days of travel to
visit the remote prisons for a short period of 30 minutes to talk under
the eyes of prison authorities who take notes of their conversation.
In addition to deliberately making communication between the prisoners
and their families practically difficult, the authorities also closely
monitor all contacts between them. In mid-December exchange of letters
between prisoners and their families resulted in prison sentences for
the family members as well. According to the Irrawaddy (Dec 19), Zaw
Naing Htwe was sentenced to nine years in prison for receiving a letter
from his brother Kyaw Kyaw Htwe aka Marky. Prison guards who had
assisted in delivering the letter were also punished with jail terms.
Similarly, Thant Zin Oo was sentenced to six months for attempting to
assist his detained brother NLD member Thant Zin Myo in raising concerns
for his health. These astonishing sentences show the severe restrictions
on the communication between the prisoners and their families.
Difficulties for lawyers in an unjust legal system
The lawyers who take on the cases of political prisoners are also facing
difficulties and threats of being punished when defending their clients.
A rare statement from Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, a 28-year-old lawyer from
Rangoon, explains the situation of the political prisoners’ defense
lawyers. Court authorities arbitrarily delay different steps in the
legal procedures and keep information on practical matters such as time
and place of the trial from the defense lawyers. If the lawyers fail to
show up on time, often because of misinformation, the trial takes place
in his absence and the clients have to defend him/herself. Further, when
the lawyer meets with his client to discuss the case, police and
intelligence officers are always present, denying them of any privacy.
Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min managed to flee the country after realizing that he
himself had been sentenced to six months for contempt of court. He was
convicted for failing to take the judge’s order to intervene wh en his
clients turned their backs on the judge in protest of how they were
being questioned. The full statement of Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min is available
on the website of Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (Burma)
With reference to Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min’s testimony, Human Rights Watch
released a statement on December 16 criticizing the regime for denying
the political prisoners’ access to justice. “The government locks up
peaceful activists, sends them to remote prisons, and then intimidates
or imprisons the lawyers who try to represent them,” said Elaine
Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This abuse of the
legal system shows the sorry state of the rule of law in Burma.” Noting
that the ASEAN Charter just entered into force, Human Rights Watch urges
ASEAN to dispatch an eminent independent legal team to monitor the trials.
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